Texas Appellate Court Reverses Damages Award Under Final Divorce Decree

The process of finalizing a divorce can involve significant time and emotional energy. When the parties finally receive a divorce decree, the last thing they want is to come back to court. Unfortunately, a spouse may have to seek court enforcement of the decree if his or her former spouse does not abide by its terms. Under Texas law, it is important that the trial court solely enforces the decree rather than altering its terms. A recent Texas appellate court decision demonstrates the importance of sticking to the precise terms of a final divorce decree.

According to the facts discussed in the opinion, this case concerned a trial court’s authority to award property in a way that contradicted the terms of a divorce decree. Previously, the trial court had signed a divorce decree stating that each spouse would receive 50% of proceeds from the sale of the parties’ marital property and certain personal property. The decree also provided for damages against a non-compliant party. Specifically, the decree mandated damages, including redistribution of assets, if a party failed to timely turn over an asset awarded to the other party. If a spouse did not turn over any asset, the spouse would receive a reduced portion of proceeds from the sale of the couple’s marital home. Over two years later, the Wife filed a motion for enforcement of the decree after accusing the Husband of not paying Wife for her share of assets. The trial court granted the Wife’s motion for enforcement, finding that the Husband violated the decree by failing to deliver property to the Wife or delivering property in damaged condition. Accordingly, the court awarded the Wife damages per the terms of the decree. The trial court specifically awarded the Wife the full market value of their marital property, which the decree would otherwise split between the parties.

The appeals court reversed. Under Texas divorce law, a court cannot change the division of property in a divorce decree. The Wife argued that the trial court simply applied the damages provision from the decree. However, the appeals court concluded that the trial court went beyond the decree. Specifically, the trial court awarded the entire fair market value of the marital property rather than awarding damages proportionate to the Husband’s failure to deliver the property. Moreover, the action went beyond the trial court’s authority. Texas only permits courts to modify a final judgment up to thirty days after the judgment. The appeals court found that the trial court essentially modified its judgment granting the divorce decree. In this case, the trial court awarded the entire marital property value to the Wife over two years after the decree, which exceeded its legal authority. Therefore, the appeals court struck down the trial court’s order and dismissed the case.

Are You Seeking to Enforce a Texas Divorce Decree?

Former spouses may not always follow a final divorce decree. If your spouse is not honoring the terms of your decree, it is important to ensure you can receive the assets to which you are entitled. The Texas divorce lawyers at Guest & Gray can assist you in enforcing the terms of your decree. Our experienced Dallas County divorce lawyers understand the importance of finality and closure, and we will work to achieve a prompt distribution of your property. If you have questions about divorce decrees, reach out to our office for a free consultation today.

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