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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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Texas child custody laws are continually evolving, and courts must conduct a thorough analysis before making any determinations. The state recently replaced a significant amount of the language in their statutes to lessen the entire process’s negativity. For instance, custody is now referred to as “conservatorship,” that and “managing conservatorship” and “possessory conservatorship” replace “legal” and “physical” custody. Possession and access to the children refer to when the parents have physical custody or visit their children. Generally, Texas maintains two custody schedules, standard and extended standards, which dictate how and when each parent sees their children.

The Texas Family Code, Section 153, explains that child custody determinations should be viewed under the lens of “the best interests of the child.” While the Code presumes that joint custody is ideal, that arrangement does not always comport with the child’s best interests. Courts typically make their decisions per the state’s public policy concerns. The primary factors revolve around assuring that the:

  • The child will have continuing and frequent contact with parents who have established the ability to act in the child’s best interest,

A Texas appeals court recently considered a Texas divorce case in which the trial court had unequally divided the parties’ pensions. In that case, the trial court had granted the divorce and divided the community property. In dividing the community property, the trial court awarded each of the parties 100% of their pensions. The husband appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in dividing the parties’ retirement accounts by awarding the wife 100% of her FERS pension because her pension was more valuable than the husband’s. The husband argued that as a result, the wife was awarded a disproportionate portion of the community estate. The husband argued the division was unfair because it created an overall division of the estate of 62% to the wife and 38% to the husband.

Division of Community Property Under Texas Law

Under the Texas Family Code, a trial court must divide the estate of a married couple in a way “that the court deems just and right.” However, a trial court does not need to divide a community estate equally. An estate may be divided unequally as long as there is a reasonable basis to do so. A court can consider a number of factors, including the difference in the parties’ incomes and earning capacities, the nature of the property, the parties’ physical condition, the parties’ financial obligations, fault in the dissolution of the marriage, their ages, their business opportunities, the size of their separate estates, and their need for future support.

A Texas appeals court recently decided a Texas family law case involving a court’s jurisdiction to issue a protective order while a divorce proceeding is pending before another court. In that case, the wife filed a petition for divorce from the husband. The following year, while the divorce petition was pending, the wife filed an application for a protective order. The court issued a final protective order in favor of the wife, and the husband appealed the order. The husband argued in part that the protective order was void because the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case. The husband argued that because a divorce proceeding was pending in a different court, the court could not issue a protective order.

Subject-matter jurisdiction refers to a court’s ability to hear and determine a certain type of case. Some courts only have subject-matter jurisdiction over certain types of cases, such as traffic courts and juvenile courts.

In this case, the wife filed the application for a protective order in the 280th District Court, which is designated as the domestic violence district court for Harris County, and which gives preference for domestic violence cases. The wife resided in Harris County, which is why she filed in that county. However, the husband argued that the application for a protective order must be filed in the court in which the divorce proceeding is pending, according to Texas’s Family Code.

In the U.S., states can follow one of two methods of distributing property during a divorce; equitable division or community property. Texas is one of nine jurisdictions that follows the community property doctrine. Under this theory, the law presumes that all of the property a couple acquired during the marriage equally belongs to both spouses. Spouses who wish to assert separate ownership over a piece of property must prove sole ownership.

Under Texas Family Code Ann. § 3.0001, separate property is anything one spouse owned before marriage. Further, separate property includes certain property a spouse acquired during the marriage. For example, separate property may include:

  • An inheritance one spouse received.
  • Property gifted from the husband or wife.
  • Compensation for personal injuries.

However, it is essential to note that courts do not consider personal injury damages related to earning capacity loss as separate property. A party contesting community property presumption over an item must prove ownership by a preponderance of the evidence.

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