A Texas trial court is limited in revisiting the division of property once a final divorce decree has been issued. A trial court may only order a post-divorce division of property if that property was not divided or awarded to a spouse in the final divorce decree. The court may not alter a division of property that was in the final divorce decree. It may only clarify or enforce the division of property that was addressed in the divorce decree. It is therefore extremely important that all assets are fully addressed in the divorce. If the parties agree upon the property division, they should each be sure the proposed decree accurately reflects their agreement.
The wife in a recent case sought a post-divorce division of property to allow her to receive a share of her husband’s retirement benefits. The parties used a pre-printed divorce decree and were not represented by attorneys in their divorce. Each party approved the form before it was presented and approved by the court.
After the court entered the divorce decree, the wife petitioned for a post-divorce division of property. She asked the trial court to rescind the divorce decree and award her a share of her husband’s military retirement. In the agreed decree, the trial court had awarded the husband all of his employment benefits and individual retirement accounts.
The trial court denied the wife’s petition, and she appealed. She alleged the husband had induced her to sign the decree by fraudulently misrepresenting an intent to share his military retirement benefits. She argued she would not have signed it if he had not made that misrepresentation. The wife alleged the husband then told her at the time of his retirement that he would not give her any of the benefits.
The appeals court found the agreed decree awarded the retirement benefits to the husband. That property division could not be re-litigated through a petition for post-divorce property division after the decree was final. The appeals court therefore affirmed the trial court’s denial of the wife’s petition. It did, however, note that a trial court could set aside a property division due to fraud under a bill of review.
This case shows the importance of ensuring that an agreed decree actually matches the agreement reached by the parties. Whether there was an oversight, a misunderstanding, or a misrepresentation, the wife alleged she thought she would receive a share of the retirement benefits, even though the decree stated differently. A party should not approve an agreed decree that does not match his or her understanding of the agreement or rely on a spouse’s representation of the terms of the decree. If you are facing a divorce, an experienced Texas divorce attorney can help you get your share of the assets. An attorney can be helpful even if there is a general agreement on the division of property. Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.
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