Articles Posted in Community Property

You are divorced and in your final orders you were awarded spousal maintenance on the basis of your disability and inability to earn sufficient income.  So, you went through all of the stages of proving your disability and proving that you could not earn the money that you need to meet your minimum reasonable needs and the judge ordered that your ex-spouse a certain amount per month to you for a certain period of time.  As you know, spousal maintenance is governed by Chapter 8 of the Family Code and with respect to a disabled spouse, it does state that maintenance can be ordered for as long as the disability persists (longer than the statutorily limited period of time).  If it is nearing the ending date of your receipt of the monthly spousal support payments, you are becoming worried because you do not know what you are going to do at this point.  Can you seek further maintenance from the Court because you are still disabled and need the money to survive?

This question was directly addressed in Stephanie Ann Novick v. Andrew A. Shervin by the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas.  There, the trial court held that the wife was “presently disabled” and ordered that the husband should pay her “$2000 per month for 24 months.”  When the time was drawing near for the husband’s payments to cease, the wife filed a motion to modify to continue the support payments and the trial court dismissed that claim to which the wife appealed.  Therefore, the Dallas Court of Appeals had to determine whether or not the trial court erred in failing to honor the wife’s request in continuing the spousal support payments.  In doing do, the Court reviewed a few other appellate cases involving this particular issue to seek guidance which led the Court to render a bright line rule to determine whether or not the support payments could be continued.

The Court held, “An award of spousal maintenance in a divorce decree is properly the subject of a motion for continuance only if the decree indicates the trial judge intended to make the award pursuant to section 8.054(b) rather than 8.054(a).”  Section 8.054(b) allows a trial court to find the spouse disabled (giving guidance as to how and what it means) and in finding the spouse to be disabled, the trial court will make an award of maintenance.  This award can be made subject to periodic request based upon the request of either party and also subject to a motion to modify.  However, Section 8.504(a)  places a duration limit on how long the court can award the maintenance for (5 years) and states that a trial court must render the shortest period possible unless the spouse’s ability to earn income is totally diminished by physical or mental disability.    The key for this Court was that you can seek continuance of the maintenance if the award was under Section 8.054(b).  An example of this type of award would be where a spouse is found to be permanently disabled, awarded spousal maintenance for longer than 5 years, and the Court also order that the spouse receiving support can seek continuance beyond the court-ordered termination date.

When pleading for a divorce in Texas, you have to consider—aside from the emotional aspect—why exactly you are getting a divorce.  Did your spouse cheat on you?  Did your spouse abandon you and what does abandonment mean?  Or, do you and your spouse argue often and have you grown into separate people rather than being the one person united on the date of your marriage?  To answer this question, it is important to discuss your options and what could be included in your pleadings.  Reason being, Texas has two separate statutory grounds for divorce—fault or no-fault.

Fault grounds of divorce are specifically outlined in Texas Family Code Chapter 6, Subchapter A.  They are listed as follows: cruelty (you are a victim of cruel treatment at the hands of your spouse and you cannot continue to live with him/her); adultery; conviction of a felony (and they have been imprisoned for at least a year and not pardoned); abandonment (your spouse left you and has remained away for at least a year without an intent to return); living apart (you and your spouse have not lived together for at least three years); confinement in a mental hospital (spouse has been confined to a mental hospital for at least three years and their mental state is so severe that a relapse is probable).    Therefore, the Texas legislature has carved out why you could ask for a fault divorce and what exactly those faults entail.  As you can see, the grounds are very specific and most are uncommon.    Most often, we see cases under the fault grounds of cruelty or adultery.

So, now you are wondering why, if you qualify under any of these grounds, would you plead a “fault” ground—what would be the benefit?  Basically, pleading for a fault ground leads to a request for a disproportionate share of the community estate.  The court can consider one of the spouse’s “fault” when deciding how to divide community property between the two parties.  The Texas Family Code mandates that the court make a “just and right division” of the community estate.  Most people believe that this means an outright 50/50 split, but that is incorrect.  The judge has a lot of determination and leeway in determining which spouse gets what property and/or debt.  So, if you would like for the court to consider giving you more than what would be given absent the fault it is important to discuss this with your attorney and consider your options.

You brought some property into your marriage, accumulated some property along the way, and now you are facing a divorce.  You need advice about what is really yours, hers, and in between.  You are not alone to have commingled property—many people have concerns about property and what ultimately happens to it, especially if it is a house or some other large asset.

Many people get confused and think that whatever is in their name is their property and same goes for their spouse.  Unfortunately, that is not how it works in Texas.  We are a community property state and the character or nature of the property depends upon its inception of title—when did you acquire that piece of property.  Community property is anything acquired during marriage, no matter whose name it is in.  Separate property is anything acquired prior to marriage or by gift, devise or descent during marriage.  Therefore, if you bought your home prior to marriage then it is your separate property.

But, now you are concerned because you deeded the home to both of your names after you were married.  However, that is not enough to convert separate property into community property under Texas Family Code Section 4.202.  In fact, subsection (a) states that you must have an agreement to convert separate into community property and that agreement must “(1) be in writing; be signed by the spouses; identify the property being converted; and specify that the property is being converted from separate property into the spouses’ community property; (2) and it is enforceable without consideration.”