Texas Appeals Court Upholds Property Division and Joint Conservatorship Ruling

In a typical divorce proceeding, property division and child custody will likely be two main issues among the parties. In Texas, property owned by one spouse before the marriage is usually not subject to division. However, if the other spouse increased the property’s value through specific contributions, that spouse may be entitled to the fair market value of the improvements to the property. Importantly, the spouse’s contributions must have a causal relationship to any appreciation in market value; passive appreciations in value will not suffice. A recent Texas appellate decision demonstrates how courts award property when one spouse claims to have improved another spouse’s separate property acquired before the marriage. The case also addresses joint conservatorship of a couple’s minor children, which many courts also refer to as joint custody.

Facts of the Case

According to the facts discussed in the opinion, the Mother and Father were married for eight years and had two minor children. The Mother filed for divorce, and a trial took place before a judge. The evidence focused on real property the Mother had purchased prior to the marriage. The Father had completed renovations to the property during their marriage. The trial also focused on the Mother’s retirement account, which she opened before the marriage but received contributions during the marriage. The trial court appointed both parents as joint managing conservators of their children, awarding the Mother the right to establish the children’s primary residence. The court also denied the Father’s reimbursement claims for funds he expended to improve the Mother’s property. Finally, the court awarded 100% of the disputed property and the retirement account to the Mother. The Father appealed.

The Decision

First, the appeals court affirmed the decision to appoint the Mother as joint managing conservator with the right to establish the children’s residence. The Father attempted to present evidence that the children suffered frequent injuries and illnesses while in the Mother’s care, including a broken arm and various bruises. However, the trial court heard testimony establishing that their son broke his arm at school and not in his Mother’s care. Additionally, because the trial court had photographic evidence of the bruises, it was in the best position to credit the Mother’s testimony that they were minor injuries incidental to the children’s daily activities. Finally, while the Father claimed the Mother failed to seek adequate medical treatment and underfed the children, the children’s pediatrician opined that there was no evidence of neglect and that the Father seemed preoccupied with gathering evidence against the Mother. Therefore, the appeals court rejected the Father’s arguments on this issue.

The appeals court also affirmed the denial of reimbursement for the Father’s renovations to the Mother’s separate property. Courts may award the value of improvements to real property if a party can show the property’s market value actually increased due to the improvements. The Father failed to demonstrate sufficient evidence to support his claim that his renovations increased the value of the property. Finally, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s decision to award the property and retirement account to the Mother. The Father failed to establish that the overall division of the estate was manifestly unfair. Moreover, the court explained that the Father was incorrect in asserting that courts should equally divide all marital property. Therefore, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s final divorce decree.

Do You Need a Texas Divorce Attorney?

If you are anticipating a divorce and have minor children with your former spouse, property division and child custody will likely be two important issues in your divorce proceeding. Understanding how Texas courts divide property and assign custody is crucial to protecting your interests when appearing before a family court judge. The qualified Texas family attorneys at Guest & Gray are experienced in handling cases involving property division, custody, spousal support, and other issues that arise during a divorce proceeding. You can be confident that our attorneys will handle your case with skill and compassion. For a free consultation, contact us at 972-564-4644.



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