In a recent case before a Texas appeals court, the court affirmed the trial court’s final divorce decree finding that a house and 21 acres were the husband’s separate property. The wife appealed the decree to the appeals court, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion and made a legal error. The appeals court, however, disagreed.
Facts of the Case
As the court’s opinion explained, the husband had purchased a home on 23 acres over a decade before he and his ex-wife married. The husband also paid off the mortgage and sold two acres before their marriage. After the husband and wife married, they later repurchased the two acres and eventually paid off the mortgage. Two years later, the husband sued for divorce.
During the couple’s bench trial, the wife asked the judge to declare the 21 acres and the home as separate property based on a prior quitclaim deed the husband had drafted and signed before their divorce. However, the husband argued that the deed only conferred the two acres the couple later repurchased to the wife, along with a separate mobile home. Confusingly, the deed gave the husband rights to the property located at the 21-acre tract’s address, but it described the property as “2.0 acres.” The trial court confirmed the two acres and mobile home were the wife’s separate property, and the 21 acres and house were the husband’s separate property. Then, in denying the wife’s motion for a new trial, the trial court credited the husband’s testimony that his only intent when signing the deed was to transfer the 2 acres and mobile home to his wife.
On appeal, the wife argued that (1) the trial court erred in transferring property to the husband because the address in the deed sufficiently described the property being transferred to the wife as the 21 acres; (2) the trial court abused its discretion in confirming the 21 acres and house as the husband’s separate property; (3) the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court’s ruling.
The appeals court rejected all three arguments. As the court explained, the law presumes that any property possessed by either spouse upon dissolution of marriage is community property (i.e., subject to equitable division). A party seeking to overcome this presumption must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the property at issue is separate, such as a gift to one spouse. Here, the appeal hinged on whether the quitclaim deed established a presumption that the husband gifted the 21 acres to his wife.
To answer this question, the appeals court engaged in a legal analysis of the deed. Here, the deed’s address (the 21-acre property) conflicted with the legal description of the property (“2.0 acres”). Because the latter was more specific, the court found that the legal description controlled. For the same reason, the court rejected the wife’s argument that the quitclaim was ambiguous due to this conflict. Instead, the court resolved the conflict by applying the deed’s legal description of the property. After doing so, the court determined that the deed conveyed the husband’s interest in the two-acre tract and the mobile home to the wife. Additionally, the court held that the deed did not create the presumption that the husband gifted the 21-acre tract to her. Therefore, the appeals court concluded that the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion in holding that the 21 acres were the husband’s separate property.
Do You Need a Texas Divorce Attorney?
If you or someone you know is going through a divorce, you may find the Texas state laws around property division to be confusing or difficult to understand. Finding the right attorney can make a big difference in the amount of spousal support or property you receive in a divorce decree. In a contentious divorce dispute, the experienced family law attorneys at Guest & Gray can develop a legal strategy to maximize your recovery. To learn more, and to schedule a free and confidential consultation, call us today at 972-564-4644.