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Texas Contempt Findings for Violations of Morality Clause

In Interest of W.B.B. considered a request for contempt findings against a Texas mother. The parents of a child had divorced in 2010. The parents were named joint managing conservators of their child, and the father had the right to designate his residence. The couple agreed to multiple mutual injunctions.

Among other injunctions, their divorce decree incorporated a morality clause agreement that prevented both the mother and the father from permitting anyone with whom she or he was romantically involved to stay overnight while the couple’s son was with her or him. The injunction was to expire in 2015 when the son turned eight, or when one of the ex-spouses remarried, whichever event happened first.

The father remarried in 2013, and the son’s eighth birthday was in 2015. The father moved to modify the divorce decree. The couple reached a mediated settlement agreement that the court incorporated into its order granting the motion to modify the original agreement. The order allowed the father to designate the child’s primary residence and also kept the morality clause in effect with the exception that it would be void if the mother remarried before the child turned eight, and this would be the material and substantial change in circumstances. The mother’s child support obligation would increase to be in line with the Texas Child Support Guidelines, the mother would have to reimburse the father for their child’s health insurance, and the mother would need to notify the father of the remarriage if it happened before the child turned eight. The parents were also prohibited from coming within 50 feet of each other, interfering with the other’s job, and doing other things.

The father filed a motion for contempt, claiming that the mother violated the 50-foot rule, and asked the mother to be sent to jail. He also asked for back child support on the grounds that the mother had remarried. He also claimed the mother had violated the order by letting her boyfriend stay overnight on 26 occasions while their child was with her and also by moving the child into her partner’s home in 2015, without giving notice to the father. For this, the father asked for a $500 fine to be imposed for each violation and for the mother to be put on community supervision.

The mother denied any of these allegations were true and argued the morality clause was ambiguous. She claimed the father was trying to harass her and asked for sanctions.

The father moved for contempt again, asking the mother to be jailed for up to six months, be fined up to $500, and be put on community supervision for up to 10 years. The father amended the motion again, adding other incidents involving the mother’s violation of the morality clause but dropping the request for jail time and community supervision.

The trial court held a hearing. The mother testified that she thought the injunction was still in effect after the father’s remarriage, so her romantic partner didn’t stay over until 2015 when her child was with her. She had since married her partner. Her tax returns did list her romantic partner’s address as her address, even though she claimed she didn’t live with him.

The father testified that he’d married in 2013, so the injunction didn’t apply to him. The couple had gone to mediation and decided to leave the morality clause there to keep the mother and her romantic partner from living in the same house with the child until the child was eight or the mother married. He’d asked for a forensic psychiatric evaluation of the son because his son was very quiet when picked up from the mother’s house. The psychiatrist told him that the son was spending the night with the mother, and the mother told him to lie to the father about where he spent the night.

The trial court denied the request for contempt findings on the grounds that the injunction wasn’t unambiguous, clear, or specific or unambiguous about the obligations of the parties. It also found that the agreement had expired before any of the claimed violations. The trial court found the father’s request was baseless and harassing, and it awarded the mother her attorneys’ fees as a sanction.

The father appealed, arguing that the trial court was wrong about the expiration of the injunction and that it shouldn’t have imposed sanctions. The court explained that a divorce decree is a contract, and each part needs to be harmonized as a whole.

The court determined that as it was written, the entire injunction terminated if either of the exes remarried before 2015. In this case, the injunction terminated when the father remarried, and even though the modification order claimed the morality clause would stay in effect, it had already expired. The court ruled against the father but removed the requirement that he pay the mother’s attorney’s fees.

If your divorce involves matters related to child custody and parental rights, contact the Texas attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

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Divorce and Taxes – What to do if your ex-spouse botched your joint tax return, May 31, 2016