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When dividing property in divorce proceedings, courts will distinguish between separate property and community property. Separate property represents any property or assets that one person has held since before they were married. Conversely, community property constitutes property or assets shared between spouses. Typically, only community property is subject to division among the former spouses. Texas courts presume that property either spouse possesses during marriage or upon the end of the marriage is community property. To overcome this presumption, a spouse must present clear and convincing evidence that they held the property separately. A recent decision from the Texas Supreme Court shows the importance of presenting adequate evidence of separate property to avoid division following a divorce.

Facts of the Case

As the Texas Supreme Court opinion explains, the Wife filed for divorce after 14 years of marriage. At trial, the Husband presented evidence that two investment accounts in his name existed before his marriage. Specifically, an expert witness testified that the Husband did not mix his accounts with community property. The expert further testified about a four-month gap in the investment statements he received. However, he concluded that the missing statements did not detract from the “established pattern of activity” over 15 years. Agreeing with the expert, the trial court found that the accounts were the Husband’s separate property, meaning they were not subject to division.

The Wife appealed, and the appeals court reversed. First, it found “no evidence” of what happened during those four months. Based on this gap in the record, it found that the Husband’s expert could not rely on an “established pattern” of account activity to adequately characterize accounts as separate property. Therefore, it reversed that portion of the trial court’s decision and sent the case back to divide the account balances. The Husband appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

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A recent Texas Supreme Court case reviewed the termination of a father’s parental rights based in large part on his illegal drug use. The trial court found sufficient evidence to terminate the father’s parental rights, but the appeals court disagreed. The Texas Supreme Court reversed the appeals court decision based on the evidence required to support a finding of child endangerment.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (“the Department”) investigated a father who was living with his children in his car. During the investigation, the father tested positive for methamphetamine, an illegal substance. After concluding its investigation, the Department removed the father’s two young children and placed them in foster care. The Department then developed a compliance plan for reunification that required the father to submit to drug tests in order to create a drug treatment plan. He initially followed the plan, and the children were placed with their grandmother. However, he eventually tested positive for marijuana use and stopped complying with the plan. After the father was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, a trial court ordered the children returned to foster care. The father did not visit his children for several months and missed the first day of his family court trial.

After reviewing the evidence, the trial court found that it was in the children’s best interest to terminate the father’s parental rights. The appeals court reversed, finding that drug use alone could not result in termination of parental rights without a direct causal link between the drug use and harm to the children. Additionally, the appeals court found that additional facts still could not show endangerment, including homelessness, a lack of stable employment, and the failure to visit his children, among other factors. The Department appealed.

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In a recent case, the Texas Supreme Court heard a case involving the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The trial court found sufficient evidence to terminate her rights, but the appeals court reversed. Ultimately, the high court reversed the appeal court’s ruling, finding sufficient circumstantial evidence and crediting a nurse’s testimony, which the court of appeals had excluded. The case demonstrates the deferential standard applied to reviewing a trial judge or jury’s decision.

Facts of the Case

According to the facts discussed in the opinion, this case arose after an infant arrived at the hospital with a fractured skull, brain bleed, and retinal hemorrhaging. The nurse treating the infant concluded that the injury would have required significant and intentional force, so the hospital notified local law enforcement and the Department of Family and Protective Services. Both parents blamed each other for their child’s injuries. While investigators initially focused on the Father, they concluded it was likely the Mother who caused the injuries. After the nurse testified at trial, the court terminated the Mother’s parental rights. The appeals court reversed, finding insufficient evidence to terminate her rights. The court was principally concerned that someone else could have caused the injury and cast doubt on the nurse’s testimony as to the timing of the injury. The Father and the Department filed petitions for review to the Texas Supreme Court.

The Decision

Ultimately, the high court reversed the appeals court. First, it found that the appeals court erred in excluding the nurse’s opinion testimony about causation because the Mother failed to object to the testimony at trial or on appeal. Then, it concluded that sufficient evidence existed to terminate the Mother’s parental rights. It disagreed with the appeals court, which reversed the trial court’s finding because it found insufficient evidence that the Mother directly caused the child’s injuries or endangered him due to her mental health. Applying Texas family law, the court explained that a showing of child endangerment does not require evidence that the Mother directly harmed the child.

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The amount of child support a parent must pay can depend on a number of factors. A parent’s current income and assets are relevant to their child support obligations, but courts may also consider the child’s age and needs if they justify a departure from typical child support guidelines. A court also may order retroactive child support payments in addition to future payments. Recently, a Texas appeals court partially affirmed and partially reversed a trial court’s child support order for abuse of the court’s discretion.

Facts of the Case

According to the facts discussed in the recent opinion, this dispute arose between a Mother and Father who were not married at the time their child was born and had since ended their relationship. The Mother moved from Texas to Indiana with her infant daughter to be closer to family. The Father, who remained in Texas, filed a petition with the Harris County trial court seeking a declaration of his parentage. He further asked the court to declare Texas as the child’s home state.

While the suit was pending, the Moher and Father entered into a settlement agreeing that neither party would child support until the proceeding concluded. After a bench trial, which is a trial before a judge without a jury, the judge declared that the Father was the child’s father and appointed the Mother and Father as joint conservators. It also found that Indiana was the child’s current home state, but Texas was her home state in the six months before the suit. The trial court further ordered the Father to pay child support in the future, along with retroactive child support. The Father appealed. On appeal, the Father argued that the trial court erred in naming both Indiana and Texas as the child’s home state; calculating his monthly net resources and resulting monthly child support payment; and ordering him to pay retroactive child support notwithstanding the settlement agreement.

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In a recent custody case before the Texas Supreme Court, the mother appealed a trial court’s decision to terminate her parental rights, asking the court to reconsider this ruling. The appellate court originally declined to issue an order on the mother’s appeal, deciding she failed to follow an important procedural step when she filed her appeal. Later, however, the Texas Supreme Court overruled this decision, telling the appellate court it should have reached the merits of the mother’s request.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, a trial court in Texas issued an order terminating both the mother’s and father’s rights to parent their child. The trial court judge announced his ruling in July 2022, and the mother appealed in October 2022. The trial judge’s written ruling, though, did not issue until November 2022. At that point, the appellate court dismissed the mother’s appeal, since it was filed before the final order was issued.

The court issued a second order in January 2023, naming a guardian for the minor child. The mother filed a second appeal the same month, again asking the court to reconsider the trial court’s ruling. At that point, the court again rejected the mother’s order, telling her she should have appealed the November 2022 order instead of the January 2023 order.

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In a recent case before an appellate court in Texas, the mother appealed a trial court’s ruling terminating her parental rights to three children. On appeal, the mother argued that the evidence presented during trial was insufficient to find that she was unable to parent her children. The higher court reviewed the evidence, considered the mother’s argument, and ultimately affirmed the original decision. The mother’s rights therefore remained terminated after the appellate court’s ruling.

Facts of the Case

This case began when the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services filed an emergency petition with a trial court in January 2022, alleging that the mother of three children had been exposing her kids to both alcohol abuse and domestic violence. After holding a hearing, the court decided that the three children should live temporarily with their aunt, until the mother could find a stable job, take parenting classes, and work with a country drug court. The court then ordered the mother to complete these steps before she appeared again for trial.

Ultimately, the court held a trial in June 2023 and found that the mother had not taken any of the steps that would allow her to regain custody of her children. The court terminated her parental rights, and she promptly appealed the decision.

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The process of finalizing a divorce can involve significant time and emotional energy. When the parties finally receive a divorce decree, the last thing they want is to come back to court. Unfortunately, a spouse may have to seek court enforcement of the decree if his or her former spouse does not abide by its terms. Under Texas law, it is important that the trial court solely enforces the decree rather than altering its terms. A recent Texas appellate court decision demonstrates the importance of sticking to the precise terms of a final divorce decree.

According to the facts discussed in the opinion, this case concerned a trial court’s authority to award property in a way that contradicted the terms of a divorce decree. Previously, the trial court had signed a divorce decree stating that each spouse would receive 50% of proceeds from the sale of the parties’ marital property and certain personal property. The decree also provided for damages against a non-compliant party. Specifically, the decree mandated damages, including redistribution of assets, if a party failed to timely turn over an asset awarded to the other party. If a spouse did not turn over any asset, the spouse would receive a reduced portion of proceeds from the sale of the couple’s marital home. Over two years later, the Wife filed a motion for enforcement of the decree after accusing the Husband of not paying Wife for her share of assets. The trial court granted the Wife’s motion for enforcement, finding that the Husband violated the decree by failing to deliver property to the Wife or delivering property in damaged condition. Accordingly, the court awarded the Wife damages per the terms of the decree. The trial court specifically awarded the Wife the full market value of their marital property, which the decree would otherwise split between the parties.

The appeals court reversed. Under Texas divorce law, a court cannot change the division of property in a divorce decree. The Wife argued that the trial court simply applied the damages provision from the decree. However, the appeals court concluded that the trial court went beyond the decree. Specifically, the trial court awarded the entire fair market value of the marital property rather than awarding damages proportionate to the Husband’s failure to deliver the property. Moreover, the action went beyond the trial court’s authority. Texas only permits courts to modify a final judgment up to thirty days after the judgment. The appeals court found that the trial court essentially modified its judgment granting the divorce decree. In this case, the trial court awarded the entire marital property value to the Wife over two years after the decree, which exceeded its legal authority. Therefore, the appeals court struck down the trial court’s order and dismissed the case.

Typically, divorce decrees award certain items of property to each spouse. The terms of a decree are final, but a court can enforce them after entering the decree. If one spouse fails to turn over property awarded to the other spouse, the court often must enforce the decree by requiring the spouse to transfer the property. In a recent Texas appeals court opinion, the court handled a petition to enforce a decree involving several items of personal property.

According to the facts discussed in the opinion, the Husband appealed a trial court’s partial denial of his petition to enforce the parties’ divorce decree. The decree awarded the Husband patio furniture, dining room furniture, and bronze statues from the marital home. The dispute arose when the Husband sought to recover the furniture, which he claimed was still in the Wife’s possession. At the trial court hearing, the Husband presented evidence of a check he wrote for the patio furniture and photographs of the furniture. The Wife admitted she took some outdoor furniture from their marital home, but she explained that it was not the Husband’s patio furniture but rather items she received before their marriage. In support, the court-appointed receiver testified that the Wife delivered the patio furniture to the Husband and kept her separate outdoor furniture. The Wife then confirmed she never returned the dining room furniture because she had sold it. The Wife also testified that she had not handed over the statues. The trial court granted the Husband’s petition with respect to the bronze statues but denied it with respect to the patio and dining room furniture.

On appeal, the Husband argued that the trial court abused its discretion by partially denying his petition for clarification and enforcement regarding the furniture. The appeals court upheld the district court’s decision with respect to the patio furniture. As the court explained, there was sufficient evidence to conclude the Wife no longer possessed it. The appeals court cited the Wife’s testimony that the other outdoor furniture was her separate property. They also credited the receiver’s testimony that the Wife returned the Husband’s patio furniture. However, the appeals court found that the trial court abused its discretion with respect to the dining room furniture. According to the court, there was insufficient evidence that the Wife returned the furniture. In fact, the Wife admitted she possessed the furniture before ultimately selling it. Therefore, the appeals court partially affirmed and partially reversed, sending the case back to the district court to enforce the decree.

One of the largest issues in Texas child custody and divorce law is that of child support. The State of Texas has an interest in having each resident child enjoy the financial support of both parents and child support laws are designed to facilitate the fair division of child-rearing expenses between a child’s legal parents. If one party refuses to pay the amount of allotted support, a Texas court can compel that party to sell or surrender other valuable property to the court in lieu of the child support payments. The Texas Court of Appeals recently released a ruling that denied a party a significant offset to his child support arrearages based on out-of-state property that was subject to a receivership appointment.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published opinion, the parties had been a married couple with children who divorced in 2015. As part of the divorce ruling, the father was ordered to pay monthly child support to the mother. After the father failed to pay the ordered support, the mother sought an order in a Texas family court to force the father to sell property in Maine that he had previously inherited. The Texas court appointed a receiver to manage the liquidation or transfer of the property to the Mother. A receiver refers to an individual or entity appointed by a court to take control of and manage certain aspects of the property. The appointment of a receiver is typically done to protect the interests of one or more parties involved in the property dispute.

In this case, the receiver failed to immediately find the property in Maine, and no further action was taken until the particular property was sold at a foreclosure auction based on the owner’s failure to pay property taxes. After nothing was gained from the receiver appointment, the Other approached the court to get a money judgment against the father for the amounts still owed. The father challenged the debt, arguing at trial and on appeal that he should be credited for the value of the Maine property, even though it was ultimately lost before the receiver or Mother was able to take possession of the property. The appellate court rejected the Father’s arguments, holding that any fault on the receiver’s part was not that of the Mother and that the child support debt remained valid and enforceable. The father was not granted an offset and will be required to pay his arrears in full.

Family law cases are often emotionally charged and complex, particularly when it comes to parental termination proceedings. Termination of parental rights is a significant legal decision with profound implications for all parties involved. The Texas Court of Appeals recently released a judicial opinion that sheds light on the factors considered in Texas family law when determining the best interests of a child for purposes of a parental termination proceeding.

In Texas, the welfare and best interests of the child take precedence in cases involving termination of parental rights, as per Section 161.001(b)(2) of the Texas Family Code. The courts rely on a set of factors to make this determination, as highlighted in a recent judicial opinion excerpt:

  1. Child’s Wishes: The child’s own expressed preferences play a role in the decision-making process.
  2. Emotional and Physical Needs: The court examines the child’s current and future emotional and physical requirements.
  3. Emotional or Physical Danger: Consideration is given to whether the child faces emotional or physical harm, both currently and in the future.
  4. Parenting Abilities: The abilities of the parties seeking custody are scrutinized.
  5. Programs Available: The existence of support programs for the involved parties is taken into account.
  6. Plans for the Child: The court assesses the plans outlined by the parties seeking custody.
  7. Stability of Proposed Placement: The proposed placement’s stability is a critical factor.
  8. Parent’s Conduct: Parental behavior that indicates an improper parent-child relationship is reviewed.
  9. Excuses for Parent’s Conduct: Any excuses or justifications for the parent’s conduct are considered.

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