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The Court of Appeals of Texas reviewed a man’s appeal regarding the property division set out in his final divorce decree. According to the court’s opinion, after 25 years of marriage, the wife filed for divorce and served the man with the process. The wife appeared at court with her attorney; however, the man failed to answer the filing or appear at court. At trial, the judge awarded the wife all of her retirement accounts, half of the husband’s retirement accounts, the parties’ home and all contents, her military identification and identification, and all property in her possession. Five months after the divorce decree and “just and right division” of the parties’ estate, the husband challenged the property division.

Texas family law provides that to prevail on an appeal, the appellant must establish that: they filed the suit within six months of the order, they were party to suit, they did not participate in the hearing that resulted in the judgment, and the error is apparent on the face of the record. In this case, the husband argues that no evidence exists to support a just and right property division of the couples’ estate.

The court reasoned that, generally, if a defendant fails to answer, the failure is taken as an admission of the plaintiff’s factual allegations. However, the rule has limitations in the context of a divorce case. If a divorce defendant fails to answer, the plaintiff must still present evidence to support their demand for property division.

The State of Texas has an interest in the welfare of children living in the state. When there are accusations that a child is being abused or neglected, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) may get involved to protect endangered children. If a Department investigation finds that a child is at risk of abuse or neglect, custody of the child may be taken from the parent or parents and placed in the temporary custody of a relative or other responsible adult.

When child welfare proceedings are initiated by the Department, parents are given a safety plan outlining what needs to be done to safely return the child to their custody. If a parent substantially and repeatedly fails to uphold their end of a Department service plan, the Department may seek to terminate that parent’s parental rights, paving the way for the child to be adopted by another family that can safely care for them. The Texas Supreme Court recently addressed a Texas Court of Appeals decision that had ordered a new trial after a man’s parental rights had been terminated.

The parent in the recently decided case was brought to the attention of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services when an anonymous source reported that he and the child’s mother had hurt the child. An agent from the Department visited the parents’ home and noted that the child was bruised. Later, test results showed that the child had a measurable amount of cocaine and methamphetamine in her system. As a result of this, an emergency custody order was made and the child was placed in the care of a relative. In order to regain custody of the child, the father was placed on a safety plan that required him to submit to drug and alcohol testing and seek psychological care. Because the father failed to meet the requirements of the service plan, the Department initiated termination proceedings.

Spousal maintenance, commonly referred to as spousal support or alimony, refers to financial support that one spouse pays to the other after a Texas divorce. After the Texas Legislature introduced HB901, the state’s spousal maintenance laws underwent massive changes. The expansion increased the possible duration and amount of payments.

Under Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.054 courts do not automatically award spousal maintenance, and instead, these determinations fall under a “rebuttable presumption” that support is not needed. Spousal support can drastically impact a person’s livelihood, and individuals should consult with a Texas divorce attorney to request or rebut spousal maintenance.

Recently, a Texas appellate court issued an opinion addressing a Husband’s challenge to a trial court’s spousal maintenance order. According to the record, the trial court entered the order on December 5, 2010, requiring the Husband to pay his ex-wife $5,000 a month through February 28, 2027. Husband argues that the order exceeds the limitations under Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 8.054(a)(1)(B) and 8.055(a)(2). Under certain circumstances, these laws prohibit spousal maintenance orders that remain in effect for more than seven years after the date of the order. Further, the statute prohibits maintenance orders that require payment exceeding 20 percent of the obligor’s monthly gross income.

While all aspects of a divorce can elicit uncomfortable and distressing feelings, those involving children often present additional challenges. Unlike many other states, the Texas family court system addresses custody and visitation as “conservatorship,” “possession,” and “access.” These orders are documents that state when each parent will spend time with the child and under what circumstances. A party can enforce these documents when a judge includes them in a court order. An attorney can assist a parent in drafting a plan to ensure that it meets the state’s guidelines. Even if parents agree to a parenting plan and agreement, circumstances may be fluid, and issues can arise immediately after the agreement or years down the line. In these cases, parties must abide by the parenting plan until a modification. The failure to do so can have long-term consequences on the defaulting parent.

For instance, recently, Texas appellate court issued an opinion in a case stemming from a trial court’s order holding a father in contempt of a custody order. The relevant facts involve the mother’s petition alleging that the father violated their custody decree by 1. Failing to provide tax documents; 2. Failing to execute necessary property transfer documents; and 3. Interfering with the mother’s possession of the couple’s child.

The mother claimed that she lost possession, one stemming from a flight delay and the other when the father refused to surrender the child at daycare at the end of his possessory period. The second incident arose when the mother told the father to drop the child off at daycare, stating she was “designating them” a competent adult. However, the father refused to enter the daycare, claiming that the woman must retrieve the child from the parking lot. The woman asked the court to hold the father in contempt, jail him for 180 days, in addition to other admonishments.

Going through a Texas divorce is a difficult process. Going through a divorce alone, however, without a qualified family law attorney to represent you, can feel insurmountable.

A recent court opinion demonstrates this principle in action. The opinion is an appeal from a divorce decree, a document that makes a divorce legally effective and explains how a couple’s assets and debts will be divided. From the time of filing for divorce, it took this couple five years to obtain the court order that made the divorce legally effective. That meant five years of court filings, appearances, and notices, as well as five years of untold personal anguish for the husband and wife.

Still, the troubles did not end there. The husband, who was not represented by a lawyer at the time the divorce decree was signed, made an appeal. The husband urged the court to put aside the divorce decree, which weighed heavily in favor of the wife. His argument for setting aside the decree was that he did not know about the final hearing, that there was insufficient evidence put forth at that hearing, and that there were obvious errors in the decree that could not stand.

Figuring out child support can be an emotional and prolonged process, especially because an initial award may need to be adjusted. A recent case revisiting a child support order demonstrates some of the complications that can arise.

In the case, a Texas father challenged the amount of child support a court had ordered him to pay. He also challenged the court’s order that he pay increased child support retroactively.

Although the father was successful in his challenge to the retroactive support, the court upheld the monthly award amount, which the father will be required to pay moving forward.

Figuring out child support can be an emotional and prolonged process, especially because an initial award may need to be adjusted. A recent case revisiting a child support order demonstrates some of the complications that can arise. In the case, a Texas father challenged the amount of child support a court had ordered him to pay. He also challenged the court’s order that he pay increased child support retroactively. Although the father was successful in his challenge to the retroactive support, the court upheld the monthly award amount, which the father will be required to pay moving forward.

In its opinion, the court first addressed the issue of the amount of child support to be paid. Texas law provides a set of guidelines to help the courts determine the appropriate amount of child support in any given case. The guidelines recommend a certain percentage of net monthly income based on the number of children a parent is obligated to support financially. For example, under the guidelines, a parent who is obligated to pay child support for three children will ordinarily be required to pay 30 percent of their net monthly income in child support. However, the law carves out a limit applicable to parents with significant resources.

When a parent’s monthly net resources exceed a certain amount as specified in the law, the percentage guidelines do not apply to the excess resources. The effect of this law is to set a presumptive upper limit on child support awards. But under Texas law, a judge can still choose to award additional child support based on each parent’s income and the children’s specific needs.

When a couple gets divorced, there are many logistical aspects that need to be handled. For some couples, this may include separating the combined assets and determining custody of the children. And when one, or both, of the spouses has debts at the time of the divorce, this can affect the decision-making process as well. In a recent Texas appellate case, the court was tasked with deciding whether the previous judge misappropriated debt to the husband, affecting the division of the community property of the couple. Ultimately, the court decided that the division of assets was appropriate, regardless of the husband’s argument.

In this case, the couple got married in 2008 and separated in 2018. After a trial, the court awarded the wife one of the couple’s cars, 50% in any joint bank account, 50% community interest in a retirement savings account, and any bank accounts and possessions in her name. She was also ordered to pay all of the debts incurred from her credit cards, along with 50% of her student loan debt. The husband was awarded a different vehicle, 50% in joint bank accounts, 50% community interest in a retirement savings accounts, and bank accounts and possessions in his name. He was also ordered to pay 50% of the debt owed on the student loan account.

On appeal, the husband argued that the court mischaracterized the student loan debt as partially attributable to him. Like assets, debt can be divided amongst the parties during a divorce. Ultimately, the court disagreed with the husband’s argument and ruled the trial court did not abuse its discretion in the way it divided the assets—including debt.

Although generally family court cases have a substantial and lasting effect on people’s lives, changes in circumstances may make some cases no longer relevant or actionable. In a recent case in a Texas child support case, a Texas appeals court found that the wife’s suit for child support modification had become moot.

In that case, the husband and wife shared two children. After their divorce, the wife filed a motion to modify child support and possession claiming that there were material and substantial changes affecting the child support. The court held a hearing and issued a decision in that case in 2018. The wife appealed that decision. While the appeal was pending, that wife filed a subsequent motion to modify the order and in 2020, the trial court signed a judgment in a separate proceeding. The wife did not appeal that decision. In the wife’s appeal, the husband argued that the appeal was moot because the wife had filed a new modification suit and the court entered a new child support order, which she had not appealed.

When Does a Case Become Moot?

Texas courts are required to consider intervening events that may affect a lawsuit and cause it to be moot. A case is moot if there is no “justiciable controversy between the parties.” If a controversy between the parties does not exist or ceases to exist, the parties do not have a legal interest in the outcome, or the court’s judgment does not have any practical legal effect, the case is moot.

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A recent decision from a Texas appeals court consider whether a court equitably divided community property between a couple and also whether the wife was entitled to temporary spousal support. The husband and wife got married in 1991 and separated in 2017. After a trial, the court divided the community property of the couple. The court awarded to the wife a portion of the husband’s retirement benefits, including 100% of the account balance, a portion of another of the husband’s retirement benefits, including 50% of the balance of the account, and a totaled 2014 vehicle.

The court awarded to the husband the remainder of the retirement benefits and a 2016 vehicle and a 2017 motorcycle. The court also awarded the wife over $7,000 in reimbursements and $34,000 for unpaid temporary spousal support. In addition, a judge had previously found that the husband was required to pay temporary spousal support in the amount of $2,000 per month beginning on the date of separation and ending on the day the court signed the default divorce decree. The court later set aside the default decree.

The husband appealed, arguing that the division of community property was unjust and that the judgment for unpaid spousal support was unjust because he did not realize he was supposed to pay spousal support after the default decree was set aside.

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