Finding Assets Your Spouse is Hiding in a Galveston, TX Divorce Case

By | Divorce

In a Texas divorce, there are multiple facets of the case that depend upon determining the full value of the assets which spouses acquire during their marriage. A judge must know how much the entire marital estate is worth before issuing an order divvying up property and deciding whether an award for spousal support is appropriate. Therefore, if one spouse is concealing assets to avoid having them factor into asset division or alimony, it is not possible to enter a final divorce decree that is fair and equitable for both parties. If you believe your spouse is hiding assets under these circumstances, state law does provide options for bringing this property properly before the court. An experienced Galveston, TX divorce lawyer can tell you more about your legal options, and some general information may be useful.

Texas Procedural Rules on Discovery

The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure apply to all civil cases in the state, including divorce proceedings. Just as you could use these rules to obtain information from the other party in a personal injury or breach of contract case, you can take advantage of them to find hidden assets. Available tools include:

  • Requests for Production of Documents: Through your attorney, you can request that your spouse produce all documents related to real estate or personal property. Paperwork such as deeds, bank statements, federal and state tax returns, business interest, and other documents may reveal the existence of assets. Once you identify these items, you can bring them before the judge.
  • Written Interrogatories: This method allows you to ask your spouse questions, in writing, that are likely to lead to discovery of real and personal property. You can then ensure that these items are included in the marital estate.
  • Oral Depositions: You can request a party to a divorce case to appear for an in-person interview session, where your attorney asks questions about income, marital property, and related matters. An oral deposition takes place before a certified court reporter who records the proceedings, so you can use the statements to find concealed property.

Penalties for Hiding Assets or Dishonesty in Discovery

Interrogatories and oral depositions require the responses of your spouse to be sworn to under oath, which is the equivalent of testifying in court. There are severe penalties for providing inaccurate, misleading, or dishonest answers to questions. In a divorce case, a party who commits fraud will be ordered to return the assets so they can be considered in determining property division and spousal support. Plus, the party could be ordered to pay a fine or the legal fees related to uncovering the concealed assets.

Discuss Hidden Assets with an Experienced Galveston, TX Divorce Lawyer

As you can see, Texas law provides you with powerful tools to discover hidden property and wrongdoing in a divorce case. Our attorneys at Tad Nelson & Associates have high-level skills in all aspects of divorce law, but we also have comprehensive knowledge of these discovery rules to ensure fairness in your case. Please contact us today at 281-843-9776 or online to schedule a consultation at our Galveston, TX office.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Galveston, TX Uncontested Divorce?

By | Divorce

In short, there is no requirement under Texas law to have an attorney represent you in any case, including divorce proceedings. The idea of representing yourself is probably attractive considering that you will not pay legal fees, especially if you and your spouse can agree on the important issues. In the absence of disputes over asset division, alimony, and child custody, visitation, and support, you may not expect your legal rights to be compromised. Still, there are a number of reasons you should give careful thought to consulting with an experienced lawyer, regardless of whether your case is a contested or uncontested divorce in Texas. A few key considerations include:

Eligibility Rules for Uncontested Divorce in Texas

There are very strict requirements for taking advantage of Texas’ uncontested divorce process, so you and your spouse only qualify if:

  • You have no minor children together;
  • You are both in agreement about ending your marriage;
  • There are no ongoing proceedings regarding a bankruptcy case;
  • You do not have joint ownership of property;
  • There are no retirement benefits to divide between you; and,
  • Neither of you will seek spousal support, otherwise known as alimony.

Though these requirements seem simple, the details of the statute are much more complicated. You could waste considerable time and effort by trying to file uncontested divorce, only to find that your case must be dismissed because you are not eligible.

Filing Proper Forms and Supporting Documents

To initiate a contested or uncontested divorce case, you must complete and file and proper forms in the Texas county of your residence. These documents are complex; many of these forms must also include supporting documentation.

In addition, Affidavits and other documents require you to swear to and sign under oath. This is the equivalent of testifying in court, so there are serious consequences if you include false or misleading statements – even if you do so by mistake.

Understanding Your Rights

Without a legal background, you put your rights at risk by representing yourself in a Texas divorce case. You may get along with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse and be able to come to an agreement on asset division and spousal support, however, the law requires fairness. If you do not know how to determine what is “fair,” it is likely that you will not get it. Plus, you do have rights regarding child custody, visitation, and support. Your relationship with your child could be in jeopardy or you could receive insufficient child support without the help of an attorney.

Schedule a Consultation with a Dedicated Texas Divorce Lawyer

You may not think you need an attorney to assist with your divorce care, regardless of whether it is contested or uncontested. However, when you do not have comprehensive knowledge of Texas divorce law and cannot foresee what could happen in the future, you can see the importance of having a qualified advocate on your side. Please contact our knowledgeable divorce lawyers at Tad Nelson & Associates to schedule a consultation. You can reach our Galveston, TX by calling 281-843-9776 or contact us online for more information on our legal services.

Is a 911 Call Admissible as Evidence of Domestic Abuse?

By | Domestic Violence

Domestic abuse incidents often involve sudden bursts of violence that can seriously threaten the lives of the victim and other people in the household. If you are a target of, or witness to, such abuse it is imperative to call 911 and seek police assistance, especially if physical violence has already occurred. Galveston-area police are trained in dealing with domestic abuse situations and, if a crime has occurred, dealing with the suspects in accordance with the law.

Supreme Court Rules Emergency Recordings Can Be “Non-Testimonial”

If you are arrested and charged with domestic abuse, it is important to understand that any 911 calls that led to police intervention may be used against you in court. This includes any statements made by the accuser or other witnesses at the scene. Even if these individuals do not testify directly at trial, the jury can still hear their voices on the 911 recording.

In a 2006 decision, the United States Supreme Court specifically addressed the admissibility of 911 calls in criminal domestic abuse cases. The Court reviewed two separate cases, one from Washington state and the other from Indiana, where 911 calls were used as evidence against the defendants. The legal question was whether each defendant had a constitutional right to cross-examine the individuals who made the 911 calls.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of every criminal defendant to “confront” the witnesses against them. (The Texas state constitution contains a similar provision.) But the Supreme Court held that this right only applied to “testimonial” statements. And statements such as 911 calls may be classified as “nontestimonial”–and thus not subject to the Sixth Amendment’s cross-examination requirement–if they are made “under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose … is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.”

What does this mean in practical terms? A recent case from Harris County offers a useful illustration. A 15-year-old male called 911 and told the operator that his father–the defendant–had physically attacked his mother. Two more 911 calls followed, one from the alleged victim and another from the son, before a Houston Police Department officer finally arrived at the scene to investigate.

During each of the three 911 calls, the operator asked a series of questions, such as whether there were any weapons used in the assault or if the defendant had any “mental-health issues” the police should know about. All of the 911 calls were played before the jury at the defendant’s subsequent trial. The only live witnesses for the prosecution were the arresting officers. Neither the defendant’s son nor his wife testified in-person.

The jury found the defendant guilty of misdemeanor assault of a family member. The Texas First District Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and sentence. The appeals court said the purpose of the 911 calls was to “facilitate police or medical assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.” The wife’s and son’s statements were therefore not “testimonial,” and the defendant had no constitutional right to cross-examine them.

Need Help From a Galveston Domestic Abuse Lawyer?

Domestic abuse is not simply a “family matter.” Galveston prosecutors will use every legal tool at their disposal to secure convictions for anyone accused of assaulting or injuring a family member, especially a spouse or child. That is why if you are charged with such crimes you need to work with an experienced Galveston domestic abuse defense attorney who understands the law in this area. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.

Can Non-Verbal “Communication” Violate a Domestic Violence Restraining Order?

By | Domestic Violence

Domestic violence allegations in the Galveston area frequently lead one party to seek a protective order against the other. In some cases the parties may agree to entry of a protective order in order to deescalate a tense situation–such as the breakup of a marriage–and give both sides some breathing room. Keep in mind, however, if you agree to a protective order as the subject, you may be charged with a criminal offense if you violate any of the conditions in the order.

Pasadena Man Receives Year in Jail After He’s Seen at Estranged Wife’s Home

Under Section 25.07 of the Texas Penal Code, the subject of a protective order commits a Class A misdemeanor if he “communicates … directly with a protected individual … in a threatening or harassing manner.” The use of the term “communicates” in this context is not limited to verbal threats or statements. A person may be found guilty of violating a domestic violence protective order if he engages in any action, verbal or nonverbal, that is perceived as threatening by the protected individual.

For example the Texas 1st District Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over domestic violence cases from Galveston County and the greater Houston area, recently upheld the conviction of a man who was seen standing outside his estranged wife’s apartment building in Pasadena. In April 2016, the defendant and his wife agreed to the entry of a protective order after she accused him of sexual assault. Among other terms, the order prohibited the defendant from “going within 200 feet” of his wife’s residence or communicating with her in a “threatening or harassing manner,” as defined by Section 25.07.

About two months after the order was issued, the wife called 911 after her neighbor informed her that the defendant was standing outside of her apartment building. The wife later testified she personally observed the defendant at her building a few minutes later. She said he left without saying anything directly to her, but she nevertheless said just seeing him made her “alarmed.”

A few minutes later a Pasadena police officer arrived at the scene. The wife gave the officer a description of the defendant. The officer said he then realized he saw the defendant walking away from the building as he was pulling in, and this was a distance less than 200 feet from the building.

The defendant was arrested and charged with violating the protective order. At trial, he denied he was present at the building on the day in question. But he acknowledged that if he were there in violation of the agreed protective order, it would “be sending a message that’s pretty threatening.” The jury found the defendant guilty and the judge sentenced him to the maximum sentence of one year in jail.

In affirming the conviction and sentence, the First District cited the defendant’s admission and the wife’s testimony that she was “alarmed” as sufficient evidence of the defendant’s intent to “communicate” a threatening message in violation of the protective order. The fact the parties never exchanged any words was irrelevant. A “reasonable jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant was, in effect, using his presence to make a threat.

Contact a Galveston County Domestic Violence Lawyer Today

Galveston-area courts take domestic violence protective orders quite seriously, as the outcome of the above case illustrates. If you are under any kind of order you must obey its terms without question. And if you are accused of a violation, do not admit anything to the police. Instead, contact an experienced Galveston domestic violence defense attorney who can advise you on the appropriate steps to take next. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 to speak with a member of our team today.

How Do Texas Courts Handle Undocumented Marriages Performed in Foreign Countries?

By | Divorce

In a contested divorce case, one of the first things you will need to establish before a Galveston judge is that there is, in fact, a legal marriage to dissolve. Texas does recognize common law marriages under certain circumstances, that is marriages where the parties did not go through a licensing procedure or formal ceremony. Obviously, Texas also recognizes marriages performed in other states, or even foreign countries where marriage customs may be sharply different than those in the United States.

Galveston Appeals Court Upholds Wife’s Divorce From Nigerian Husband

Nevertheless, just because a marriage was performed according to foreign custom or law, that does not mean a Texas divorce court cannot assert jurisdiction over the parties, assuming they otherwise satisfy the state’s residency requirements. For instance, if you have lived in Galveston County for at least 90 days and been a resident of Texas for at least six months, you can file for divorce here, even if the other spouse does not live in the state. However, the non-resident spouse may still challenge the court’s “personal jurisdiction” in the case.

Recently the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals, which exercises jurisdiction over divorce cases from Galveston and several surrounding counties, addressed a complicated divorce involving two Nigerian nationals living in the United States. The wife, who lives in Harris County, sued the husband for divorce in 2013. She alleged the couple had been legally married since 1984, when a traditional Nigerian marriage ceremony was performed without either of them present.

According to the testimony of the wife and an expert she hired, such proxy marriages–which are referred to in Nigeria as “engagements”–are commonplace. Basically, the prospective husband asks his family to write the prospective wife’s family for permission to marry. According to the wife, she and her husband had actually lived together for some time and conceived a child before going through the formal engagement ceremony. Ultimately, the couple had three children.

The wife’s expert, an immigration attorney, further testified that these kinds of engagement ceremonies have long been “recognized as valid in the United States.” He cited federal immigration regulations, which expressly acknowledge “customary law by proxy” marriages where the parties are “not physically present for the wedding ceremony.” Such marriages are apparently sufficient to establish marriage for a variety of legal purposes even though there is no legal documentation of their existence.

And that was apparently good enough for the divorce courts in this state to conclude there was a valid marriage–or at the very least, what Texas would consider a common law marriage. The 14th District, rejecting the husband’s appeal from a final divorce decree issued by the trial court, held the expert’s testimony, combined with that of the wife and other evidence, was enough to establish the couple was legally married in Nigeria. Furthermore, given the husband actively participated in the divorce trial, he had effectively waived any right to challenge the court’s personal jurisdiction over him.

Speak With a Galveston Divorce Attorney Today

Never assume that just because your intimate relationship lacks documentation of a formal marriage that one does not legally exist. As the case above illustrates, this is a special concern for people who immigrate to Texas from countries where customary and traditional legal marriages are still enforced. If you have any questions regarding the legal status of your relationship and need advice from an experienced Galveston divorce lawyer, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today at (281) 843-9776.

Can I Go to Jail for Failing to Comply With the Terms of My Divorce Settlement?

By | Divorce

Divorce cases involving disputes over the division of marital property can get quite heated. For many Galveston-area couples, it is not so much about the money or the property itself as it is not letting the other spouse “win.” Such emotionally driven decisions often serve to drag out an already lengthy process. And in the heat of the battle, some people forget they are still dealing with a legal system that requires everyone to follow certain rules–or face the consequences.

Court Affirms Contempt Finding After Ex-Husband Waits 3 Years to Turn Over Property to Ex-Wife

Consider the fact that once a Galveston judge issues a final divorce decree, any incorporated marital property division is not a formal judgment that both sides must comply with. To put it another way, if the judge orders you to turn over certain assets to your now-former spouse, that is not a request. It is an order. And if you disobey that order, you can be held in contempt of court and possibly sent to jail.

If you don’t think that can happen, consider this recent Texas divorce case. The couple in this case were legally divorced in 2012. At that time the judge entered an order diving the couple’s marital property. Among other provisions, the judge ordered the husband to turn over 50 percent of the after-tax proceeds from the deferred compensation he received from his employer. This included giving his ex-wife copies of all documents related to the deferred compensation within a certain time frame.

More than three years later, the wife returned to court and filed a motion seeking enforcement of the judgment on this issue. Apparently, the husband never complied with the court’s orders. Ultimately, the court found the husband committed 45 violations of its prior orders. Consequently, he was held in contempt of court and ordered to spend 15 days in jail for each violation–to be served concurrently–unless he complied.

The husband turned over the property at this point. But he also asked a Texas appeals court to quash the contempt order. The higher court declined to do so. The appeals judges were not persuaded by the husband’s defense for his earlier non-compliance, which basically came down to, “I didn’t understand the judge’s order.”

Specifically, the husband said the 2013 division of property order was “ambiguous” as to the calculation of tax rates on his deferred compensation. But as the appeals court pointed out, the husband never raised this point in the three years that elapsed between the court’s order and his ex-wife filing her contempt motion. More to the point, the appeals court said the order was never ambiguous. Both sides proposed different methods for calculating the tax, and the judge simply sided with the wife. The husband may have disagreed with the outcome, but that did not make the judge’s decision “ambiguous.”

Consult With a Galveston Divorce Lawyer Today

In any contested Galveston divorce case, each spouse has the right to present evidence regarding the division of property and have a judge resolve any disagreements. But once the judge resolves those issues, barring an appellate court’s intervention, the order is final and binding on both parties. This is why it is critical to start working with an experienced Galveston divorce attorney early in the process, so you can identify any potential property issues and address them in a timely manner. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 to speak with a qualified divorce lawyer about your case today.

What Is Considered “Harassment” in Violation of a Galveston Domestic Abuse Protection Order?

By | Domestic Violence

Domestic abuse allegations frequently arise during contested divorce cases in Galveston County. A judge may issue a protective order in favor of one spouse. Such an order can restrict the alleged abuser in a number of ways, such as how and when they may contact the complaining spouse.

Violating a domestic abuse protection order is a serious offense. Galveston prosecutors can–and will–charge the alleged abuser with a Class A misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to a year in jail, although in many cases a court may agree to sentence the defendant to a term of probation instead.

Court Rejects Appeal of Criminal Conviction for Violating Protective Order

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently addressed a constitutional challenge to part of the Texas Penal Code which authorizes jail time for violating domestic abuse protection orders. The defendant in this case argued the original order unfairly restricted his “free speech” rights and was too vague to allow him to understand what conduct was prohibited. The Court rejected both arguments.

This case began about six years ago. The defendant was then charged with domestic abuse in connection with an assault against his then-wife. At that time, the wife indicated she wanted a divorce, and the couple separated.

A few weeks later a judge issued a domestic abuse protection order against the defendant. Among other terms, the judge prohibited the defendant from “communicating directly” with his estranged spouse “in a threatening or harassing manner.” This matches the language used in Section 25.07 of the Texas Penal Code, which defines the criminal offense of violating a protection order.

Note that the order did not prohibit all communication between the spouses, just that where the defendant acts in a threatening or harassing manner. Initially, the spouses continued to speak on household and childcare matters via text message. But the wife then demanded the defendant stop texting her and communicate only by email. The defendant ignored this request on several occasions and continued to send text messages and make phone calls.

Many of the defendant’s communications were designed to pressure his wife into reconciling. In one email he “claimed he was having an anxiety attack” because she left him. The defendant even asked members of his church to send his wife a message to “urge” her not to go through with the divorce.

Following the church email, the wife went to the police, who arrested the defendant for violating the protection order. A jury ultimately convicted the defendant of violation Section 25.07. The judge sentenced the defendant to two years probation in lieu of a one-year jail sentence.

As the Court of Criminal Appeals explained, there was nothing unconstitutional or vague about Section 25.07 as applied to the defendant’s case. The law “does not implicate any constitutionally protected speech,” since it is narrowly tailored to focus on specific individuals and conduct, i.e. individuals under a domestic abuse protective order due to prior acts or threats of violence. Nor is the order vague, as it only applied to communications made in a “harassing manner,” which the Court defined as mode or method of communication that would “persistently disturb, bother continually, or pester another person.”

Speak With a Galveston Domestic Abuse Attorney Today

If you are the subject of a domestic abuse protection order, you need to be extremely careful when contacting the person who made the complaint, even if you are still legally married to that person. Attempts to reconcile, even if you think they are innocent and made in good faith, may be perceived by the other person–and ultimately a jury–as harassment. And the last thing you want to end up with is a criminal record because you did not fully understand the law in this area.

In fact, if your spouse or partner is seeking a protection order against you, it is imperative you speak with a qualified Galveston domestic abuse attorney right away. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 today if you need assistance.

What Happens If You Violate Your Parole Following a Domestic Violence Conviction?

By | Domestic Violence

Judges in the Galveston area will not accept any excuses when it comes to domestic violence charges. Keep in mind that under Texas law, the normal criminal penalties for assault are enhanced if the accuser is a family member or someone you were in a prior relationship with. And if you are offered community supervision–probation–following conviction for a domestic violence offense, you must follow the court’s release conditions to the letter. Otherwise, you may be facing several years in state prison.

Defendant Receives 10-Year Sentence After Sending Threatening Messages

Consider this recent Texas domestic violence case. The defendant previously received deferred adjudication on the charge of felony assault of a family member, specifically the mother of one of the defendant’s children. In a deferred adjudication, the court will dismiss the original charge if the defendant completes his term of probation without incident. But any violation of the probation terms is grounds for immediately revoking community supervision, adjudicating the defendant’s guilt, and sentencing him accordingly.

Unfortunately for the defendant in this particular case, about a year into his probation the prosecution moved to revoke probation for three alleged violations. One thing to note: When moving to revoke probation, the district attorney need only prove its case by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the normal standard for criminal conviction.

Here, the judge found the prosecution proved its case for revoking supervision on two of the three alleged violations. The defendant appealed, but the appellate court said the trial court acted within its discretion. The Court of Appeals focused on one particular allegation–namely, that the defendant sent a series of messages threatening his original victim. As the appellate court noted, “[t]hese messages leave little doubt that [the defendant] was threatening [the victim] with bodily injury.” Indeed, the defendant admitted at trial that he meant to place the victim “ in fear that she would get hurt.” This is sufficient to prove assault under the Texas Penal Code, even if the defendant never acted on his threats.

Call a Galveston Domestic Violence Attorney Today

Having your probation revoked after you have been convicted of a domestic violence charge is no small matter. While assault is normally treated as a Class A misdemeanor–and thus carries a penalty of no more than one year in jail–if the crime involves a family member or dating partner, the charge is automatically bumped up to a third-degree felony. This multiplies the potential prison term from one year to 10 years. And 10 years is exactly what the trial court gave the defendant in the case above.

Given the serious, life-altering consequences of a domestic violence conviction, you need to take any accusation seriously, even if you know it is false. Domestic violence charges never go away on their own. You need to work with an experienced Galveston domestic violence defense attorney who understands how to deal with these kinds of cases and will effectively represent your interests in court. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 today if you are facing domestic violence accusations and require immediate assistance.

 

How One Spouse’s “Waste of Community Assets” Can Impact a Galveston Divorce Case

By | Divorce

If you are married, any property that you and your spouse acquire during the marriage is considered part of your “community” estate. In the event of divorce, a Galveston judge will divide a couple’s community property in a manner that is “just and right.” This does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split. If one spouse has engaged in reckless spending without the other’s knowledge, the judge may consider such a “waste of community assets” as a factor supporting the award of a greater share to the innocent spouse.

Husband Penalized for Failing to Explain Spending Over $800,000

A recent Texas divorce case helps illustrate this point. The couple in this case were married for approximately 36 years. The husband left the marital home and moved in with another woman. During this time he withdrew more than $700,000 from his retirement account.

When questioned in court, the husband could not account for all the money he spent. An accountant retained by the wife determined the husband spent about $800,000 in marital assets during their separation, of which about $700,000 could not be traced. The husband, who represented himself at trial, neither challenged the accountant’s findings nor offered any rebuttal financial evidence of his own.

The divorce court ultimately favored the wife when making a final property division. The judge found the husband “wasted community assets in the amount of approximately $800,000,” and charged that amount against him “as if the estate was reconstituted to include the funds that were wasted.” The husband appealed the judge’s order, but a Texas appeals court affirmed the decision.

The appeals court noted that a “fiduciary duty exists between a husband and a wife as to the community property controlled by each spouse.” While not “fraud” in the criminal sense, “fraud on the community” nevertheless has “all of the consequences and legal effects of actual fraud because it tends to deceive the other spouse or violates confidences that exist as a result of the marriage.” So in the context of this case, the husband’s unaccounted wasteful spending was “fraud” against the wife.

Indeed, anytime one spouse spends or dissipates marital property without the knowledge or consent of the other, there is a “presumption of waste” under Texas law. The disposing spouse therefore has the burden to prove his actions were not fraudulent or wasteful. Here, the husband not only admitted to withdrawing $700,000 from his retirement accounts–which were indisputably community property–but he neglected to challenge the findings of the wife’s accountant. This was sufficient, the appeals court said, to support the “presumption of waste” against the husband.

Get Advice From a Galveston Divorce Attorney

Do not assume that just because you are getting a divorce, you are free to withdraw funds from accounts you jointly hold from your spouse. And never try to represent yourself in divorce court, especially if the other spouse has accused you of financial misconduct. You should always work with a qualified Galveston divorce lawyer who can advise you on how to properly deal with your finances. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 if you are in the process of going through a divorce and need advice today.

 

Texas Supreme Court to Reconsider Property Division in Fault-Based Divorces

By | Divorce

Texas is a community property state. In plain terms, this means that all property acquired during a couple’s marriage is presumed to belong to both spouses equally. But this does not necessarily mean that community property is divided equally in the event of divorce. So if you live in the Galveston area and sue your spouse for divorce on grounds of fault you can ask for a greater share of the community property if you can prove such a distribution would be “just and right.”

Wife Seeks 100% of Marital Estate Due to Husband’s Child Abuse

The Supreme Court of Texas recently agreed to review the “just and right” distribution of property in a divorce case arising under particularly horrific circumstances. What is especially notable here is the spouse who initiated the appeal actually previously received a disproportionate share of the couple’s community property–80 percent–but she maintains that she is entitled to 100 percent as a matter of law. This is what the Supreme Court will have to determine.

The wife in this case originally sought a no-fault divorce. But she later moved to seek divorce on grounds the husband’s “cruelty.” More precisely, the wife said the breakup of the marriage was the direct result of the husband sexually abusing the wife’s two daughters. In a separate criminal proceeding, the husband was convicted of “continuous sexual abuse” of a minor under the age of 14 and is presently serving a 60 year prison sentence.

An intermediate appeals court held that despite the husband’s unfathomable acts, that alone did not justify awarding 100 percent of community property to the wife. The appeals court cited a 1980 Texas Supreme Court ruling that said division of a marital estate “should not be a punishment for the spouse at fault.” In her present appeal, the wife argues the intermediate court “misconstrued” the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling and took an unfairly “narrow view of egregious fault by the husband in the breakup of the parties’ marriage.”

As the wife explained in her formal brief to the Supreme Court, the primary marital asset is the couple’s home, where the wife currently resides with her daughters. During the husband’s criminal trial, the daughters testified the home is where the husband committed his multiple acts of sexual abuse. Given these facts, the wife argued it would not constitute “punishment” to award her sole ownership of “residence that was the crime scene for the egregious behavior” of the husband. In short, the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling “should not be read to approve of the property division at bar that rewards a husband who has been convicted of multiple criminal acts on his wife’s children.”

In a reply brief, the husband argued the divorce court acted within its discretion to award the wife an 80 percent share of the marital estate, and that “property divisions never have one correct answer” under law. The husband maintained his criminal record should not be given “exclusive” weight and that the Supreme Court has never “identified a circumstance requiring an unequal distribution of the marital estate, let alone an award of the entire estate to one spouse.”

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in this case for February 28, 2018. A final decision is expected sometime thereafter.

Speak With a Galveston Divorce Attorney Today

If the Court sides with the wife in this case, it could represent a critical shift in Texas divorce law with respect to fault and property division. If you are contemplating divorce yourself and need advice on how the law may affect your situation, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Galveston at (281) 843-9776 today.