Texas family courts often award one party to a divorce a share of the other party’s retirement income or pension that accrued during the marriage. This method of property division ensures that a nonworking or lower-earning spouse is compensated for their efforts in the marriage when acting as a stay-at-home spouse or parent. Generally, the obligee spouse is only awarded retirement income that was accrued during a marriage, however, Texas courts can and do award proceeds from retirement or pension accounts that were earned by the other spouse after a divorce.
The Texas Third Court of Appeals recently reversed a lower court ruling that had reduced an ex-husband’s obligation to pay his wife a share of his military pension that he accrued during 19 years of military service after the parties’ divorce was finalized. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the parties were married in 1977, and a divorce trial was held in 1996. As part of the final divorce order, the wife was awarded 50% of the husband’s military pension once it was received. Because the husband continued to serve in the military after the divorce was finalized, he did not receive any pension until after his retirement in 2015. After the husband’s retirement, the wife demanded that he pay her 50% of the pension payments pursuant to the 1996 divorce decree.
The husband refused to pay 50% of his total pension award, claiming that he only owed her 50% of the pension amount that accrued during the marriage. The husband made a motion with the court that entered the divorce decree, seeking a clarifying order that the wife was not entitled to 50% of the total pension amount. The trial court accepted the husband’s arguments, ultimately awarding over $115,000 in disputed funds to the husband. The wife appealed the ruling to the Texas Court of Appeals, arguing that the decree of divorce clearly stated that she was entitled to 50% of the pension once it was received, and this order did not limit the award to funds accrued only during the marriage.
On appeal, the high court ruled that the text of the decree of divorce must control the outcome of this case, and therefore reversed the lower court’s award to the husband. The Court of Appeals accepted that the decree of divorce may have been written incorrectly and that the 1996 judge may not have intended for the wife to receive a share of the husband’s pension that was earned after the marriage, but the court implied that their hands were tied by the clear and unambiguous language of the divorce decree. The Court emphasized that the husband had an opportunity to appeal the entry of the divorce decree, and had he done so within the time limit prescribed under Texas law, the award would likely have been reduced. Even with this consideration, the high court found that the award as written must be enforced, as the time for an appeal had long passed. As a result of this ruling, the disputed $115,000 will go to the wife, regardless of what the intention of the original judge may have been.
This case demonstrates the importance of having a knowledgeable and diligent attorney on your side when going through a divorce. The husband’s previous counsel could have ensured that the language of the decree of divorce was consistent with the judge’s intentions, and they could have appealed the entry of the decree as written if the appeal was made in time. Instead, the mistake was not caught until it was too late, and the wife has been awarded $115,000, which she arguably should not be entitled to.
Speak with a Qualified Dallas County Divorce Attorney Today
If you or a loved one is seeking a divorce, retaining a qualified and competent Texas divorce attorney should be your first step toward resolving your case. The experienced and knowledgeable Texas family attorneys with Guest and Gray understand the importance of every word in a divorce decree, and we can ensure that your case is finalized without any potentially disastrous mistakes in the drafting of the final orders. If a ruling is made that does not comply with Texas law, we know when and how to pursue an appeal to ensure that your rights are upheld. Our dedicated Texas divorce lawyers pride themselves on getting our clients the results that they deserve. If you’re anticipating a divorce, contact us so that we can start preparing your case. Contact our offices at 972-564-4644 and schedule a free consultation today.