Justia Lawyer Rating for Jose Noriega
AVVO Top Contributor - Criminal Defense
Superlawyer Badges
AV Preeminent Badge
BBB

Married couples who choose to get divorced in Texas will be subject to a court’s determination of a fair and equitable property division between the parties. Younger couples who married at an early age and share finances can expect a marital estate to be divided roughly evenly. Marriages between older couples with independently established finances can be more complicated, especially if non-marital funds are commingled with marital assets throughout a relationship. The Texas Court of Appeals recently rejected a man’s claim to the equity in a shared home that he contributed $70,000 of his own money to renovate during the marriage.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the parties to the recent case were married in Texas in 2010. Being an older couple, each spouse entered into the marriage with existing individual assets. Once married, the couple purchased a home together. The husband later contributed approximately $70,000 to renovate/construct a swimming pool at the new home. This money came from the proceeds of the sale of a property the husband had owned before the marriage. Once the parties filed for divorce, the husband requested that he be awarded a larger portion of the shared home because the renovations were paid for with his separate funds. The trial court rejected the husband’s requests, instead dividing the ownership of the marital home based on the amount each spouse contributed to the purchase price.

The husband appealed the trial court’s judgment, arguing that he was entitled to a larger portion of the marital home than his ex-wife, as he contributed his own money to the renovations. The applicable Texas law states that a spouse who contributes to a capital improvement on a shared piece of marital property is entitled to reimbursement for half the increase in value added by the improvement. The appellate court found that the husband never properly requested this reimbursement and that he put no evidence on the record to prove the actual value of the renovation. Because the procedures for reimbursement were not followed, and there is no evidence on the record that the renovations actually increased the value of the home, the court agreed that the husband was not entitled to additional credit for the renovation. As a result of this ruling, the husband will not receive any compensation for any of his money invested in the marital home before the divorce.

Division of property can be hotly contested in Texas divorce proceedings. In a marriage, some assets acquired are jointly owned, with both spouses named as owners. Others are community property owned by one party in name, but the other spouse has an interest in that property. Others yet are individually owned by one spouse or the other, and the presumption of community property status must be rebutted.

In a recent family law case heard in a Texas appeals court, the husband in the soon-to-be-ended marriage appealed a trial court decision that determined that a property acquired during the couple’s marriage was solely owned by the wife. The husband also appealed the trial court’s award of attorneys’ fees to the wife. The appellate court agreed with the trial court’s determination of property and upheld the divorce decree. The court did, however, reverse the portion of the decree that awarded the wife attorney’s fees.

Facts of the Case

The property in dispute in this case was a bar owned by the woman in the marriage. The trial court found that the woman signed a five-year lease for the property in 1990. In 1995, she renewed the lease with an option to buy before the marriage began in 1997. The property was purchased after the start of the marriage, just a few months later.

Continue Reading ›

In a recent family law case coming out of a Texas court, the father involved in the case appealed the trial court’s decision to modify the child support payments he was making to his ex-wife and child. On appeal, the father argued that the court did not have the right to modify their agreement, since the parties had signed a contract saying they would not make any changes to the agreement for three years after signing. Looking at the document in question, the court of appeals denied the father’s appeal and enforced the lower court’s modification.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the mother and father in this case divorced in 2016 after having one child together. Originally, the father was ordered to pay the mother $500 in child support payments; this amount was calculated after considering both parties’ incomes and assets, as well as what would be in the best interest of the child.

In 2017, the mother asked the court to modify the agreement. She alleged that the original amount was not in compliance with the Texas Family Code, which sets out amounts for each party to pay based on their individual circumstances. The mother filed an additional petition to modify the child support payments in 2019, again asking for an increase in financial support from the father. In 2021, a bench trial was held virtually, and the court ordered the father to increase his contributions. The father appealed the court’s decision.

Continue Reading ›

In a recent family law case coming out of a Texas court, the mother involved in a custody suit appealed the court’s decision to modify a custody arrangement regarding her son. On appeal, the mother argued that the court had denied her of her right to be heard in court by imposing time limits on how long she could present her case to the judge. The court of appeals considered the mother’s argument but ultimately denied it, affirming the lower court’s decision.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the mother and father in this case divorced in 2011 and agreed to share custody of their son. The divorce decree stated that the father would have the exclusive right to establish the primary residence of the child.

In 2019, the father learned of verbal and physical altercations between the mother and her new husband. He also learned that the mother was using drugs and drinking at home, as well as that she had obtained a British passport and was considering kidnapping the couple’s child and taking him to England. The father filed an emergency motion for a restraining order against the mother and asked the court to deny the mother access to their son.

Continue Reading ›

It has been said that the termination of a natural parent’s parental rights is akin to “the death penalty” of child welfare cases. When the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services makes the decision that it is in a child’s best interest to terminate the rights of a natural parent, the proceedings are often taken as a last resort. Because the rights involved are so important and fundamental, the DFPS must follow strict procedural guidelines when pursuing a termination case. The Texas Supreme Court recently addressed a natural father’s appeal from a ruling terminating his parental rights.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the Texas DFPS had sought to terminate a man’s parental rights over his son. The man and the child’s mother were married in 2016 and the child was born in 2017. The mother had a history of drug problems and appeared to expose the child to drugs before and after her pregnancy. In a different proceeding, the mother’s parental rights were terminated for her failure to abide by a safety plan enacted by the DFPS.

In the instant case, the DFPS alleged that the man did not have a safe home for his son to live in with him. Additionally, the DFPS was concerned about the man’s continued contact with the child’s mother, and his minimization of her drug and behavioral issues. The father proposed that he and his son could move in with a family member, however, the plans were not guaranteed, and the DFPS continued to pursue termination proceedings. At trial, a jury found that terminating the father’s parental rights was in the best interest of the child, in part because the father knowingly allowed the child to be endangered by the mother’s drug abuse.

Texas courts have the authority to enter protective orders that prevent a potentially dangerous or abusive domestic relation from contacting or harassing the protected party. If a protective order is entered in a scenario where the two parties to the order share one or more children, the terms of the order can complicate the parties’ relationships with their children.

Specifically, when the protected party has custody of the children, it can be difficult for the responding party to have a meaningful relationship with their children while the order is in effect. Many protective orders have the effect of inhibiting the parent-child relationship between the responding party and their child, however, it is possible to fight back against such provisions in a protective order. The Texas Court of Appeals recently addressed an appellant’s request to modify a protective order that prevented him from seeing his children.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the parties to the case share a child together. In March of 2021, the mother filed a request for a protective order. She alleged, among other things, that the father was violent towards her in front of the children, and also sexually assaulted her. Based on the court’s understanding of the evidence before it, the protective order was granted. One provision of the order prevented the father from attending or going near any of their child’s extracurricular activities. If the father violated this order, he could be sent to jail and face other permanent consequences.

When Texas parents are divorcing or fighting over custody of children that they share, many factors are used by the courts to determine the best custody arrangement. The most important consideration that courts consider when awarding custody is what is in the “best interests” of the children. Various factors can contribute to what a court finds is in a child’s best interests, one of which is the desire or choice of the child themselves. Parents will often request that a judge interview a child in their chambers (in camera) and ask them which parent they would like to live with. Under some circumstances, courts have the ability to perform an in-camera interview of a child, however, it is not always done. The Texas Court of Appeals recently affirmed a family court’s decision not to perform an in-camera interview in a divorce case.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the parties were married in 2003 and had four children before separating in 2017. During the divorce proceedings, the mother requested that the court perform an in-camera interview of the parties’ oldest child, who was 13 years old at the time. Under Texas law, a judge shall interview any children over 12 years old to determine their placement preference. The family court denied the mother’s request, ruling that she had waived her right to have the child interviewed and failed to file the requisite motion with the Court. After a trial in which the eldest child was not interviewed by the judge, the father was awarded primary custody of the children.

The mother appealed the family court ruling, arguing that the court was required under the law to perform an in-camera interview of the child. On appeal, the high court acknowledged that Texas law requires an in-camera interview of children over the age of 12 if requested by either party, however, the ruling was still upheld. Texas appellate procedure requires an appellate court to perform a harm analysis in the event of an error below. If the court determines definitively that a lower error was harmless and that resolution of such error would not change the final ruling, then the court shall not reverse the ruling. Because the child’s desires had been adequately determined through the testimony of a therapist as well as through a custody evaluation performed by a social worker who did interview the child, the court found that the lower error was harmless and did not change the lower ruling.

Custody disputes and other family law matters can be some of the most difficult and emotional conflicts for courts and judges to hear. Fact finders must balance the importance of protecting the safety of children with the unfortunate fact that many parents manufacture or exaggerate claims of abuse in order to bolster their custody or divorce case. Ultimately it is up to the finder of fact (judge or jury) to determine the credibility of abuse allegations lodged against a party. A Texas appellate court recently affirmed a Dallas family judge’s ruling that the allegations of abuse against a father involved in a custody case were not credible.

The parties in the recently decided case were a married couple who share four children. Around 2017, the parties sought a divorce based upon irreconcilable differences. As the divorce and custody determination played out, the mother made allegations that the father had been abusive several times to her in front of the children. Under Texas law, an abusive parent or spouse faces difficulty in obtaining primary custody of the children. While not directly controverting the mother’s allegations, the father did elicit the testimony of a family therapist who treated the couple, as well as another professional who completed a custody evaluation of the family to determine the best placement for the children.

Based on the testimony of the parties and professional witnesses, the family judge determined that the mother’s allegations of abuse did not demonstrate the “pattern of abuse” that would be required to further restrict the father’s custody rights. Specifically, the judge noted that both the marriage therapist and the custody evaluator found the mother to be unstable and agitated. The judge further determined that the allegations of abuse appeared to be made primarily in support of the mother’s legal case, and not based on any actual abuse.

Across the United States and much of the world, a child born to a married couple is assumed, by law, to be the child of the husband. Without any legal action or adjudication of parentage, the biological relationship between a husband and the child of his wife is not relevant to the husband’s parental rights over the child. Because not all marriages function monogamously, and the biological parentage of the children of married couples is not always known for certain, conflicts can arise over the parental rights to a child when a biological father is challenging the husband of the mother over the rights to the child. The Texas Court of Appeals recently rejected a biological father’s request to be adjudicated the father of his biological son, ruling that the petition was filed too late for the court to consider granting the relief requested.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a man who fathered a child with the wife of the defendant while the couple was separated. The couple did not divorce, and when the child was born, the defendant was assumed to be the father and was placed on the child’s birth certificate. According to the facts discussed in the complaint, the biological father suspected that he was the father of the child, and the child lived with him for part of the time during the first five years of her life. The plaintiff filed a parentage action shortly after the child’s fifth birthday seeking to obtain the parental rights for his biological child.

In response to the plaintiff’s suit, the defendant asked the court to dismiss the claims. The defendant argued that under Texas law, the biological father of a child born to a married woman must file a parentage action before the child’s fourth birthday to obtain an adjudication of parentage from the court. Because the petition was filed over five years after the child’s birth, the defendant alleged that the plaintiff had no grounds to seek parental rights over the child. The trial court rejected the defendant’s arguments and adopted the plaintiff’s position that the four-year statute of limitations period for establishing parental rights violated the U.S. Constitution, as parents have a fundamental right to parent their natural children that cannot be denied arbitrarily.

Texas family courts are entitled to make various financial awards to one party or another as part of a divorce judgment or settlement. The most common payments ordered by a family court are for child support and are designed to allow the custodial parent to support the children. Alimony can also be ordered, which is done in order to allow the lower-earning spouse to maintain a similar standard of living as to that which they were accustomed to during the marriage.

Texas family courts also are responsible for dividing marital property, which includes real estate, personal property, as well as financial assets. In addition to these payment orders, family courts are entitled to enforce any other financial agreements or contracts that are made between divorcing parties as part of a settlement agreement. A Dallas appellate court recently denied a woman’s request to enforce a contract made between her and her ex-husband as part of their divorce settlement.

The parties from the recently published opinion were married in 2005 and divorced in 2015. As part of their divorce settlement agreement, the ex-husband agreed to pay approximately $10,000 per month to the wife in order to support “an alternative lifestyle” for her and the children. As part of this agreement, the wife would use the money to fund travel and living abroad for her and the children, as a means for personal development.

Contact Information