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Is Property of My Spouse’s Minor Child Part of the “Marital Estate”?

A common problem that arises in Texas divorce cases is how to properly classify certain property. Texas is a “community property” state, which means that any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage is presumed to be part of the marital estate and thus subject to equitable division in any subsequent divorce. By default, all property is assumed to be community property, and the burden of proof is on a spouse to prove otherwise by a “preponderance of the evidence.”

Houston Court Rejects Wife’s Claim on Ex-Stepson’s House

But what about property held by a minor child of one of the spouses? A Houston appeals court recently considered this scenario. The husband in this case had four children from a prior relationship. He leased a house in Galena Park, Texas, beginning in 1992. In 1996, he married the wife. In 2000, after the expiration of the Galena Park lease, the owner executed a “quitclaim” deed transferring the property to one of the husband’s sons, who was 16 years old at the time.

About a year later, the husband and wife purported to execute a general warranty deed on the Galena Park property, apparently to use it as collateral to obtain a loan. The couple executed a second such deed in 2005 to get a home equity loan. The wife also used her personal funds to make improvements to the property.

The wife filed for divorce in 2012. She alleged the Galena Park home was “community property.” The trial court agreed and ordered the property sold, with the proceeds divided between the spouses.

But the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals reversed that decision, explaining there was no evidence that either spouse ever held legal title to the property. The 2000 quitclaim deed clearly transferred title to the son. “Texas law does not restrict the ability of minors under the age of eighteen to own property,” the appeals court noted. And even if the transfer to the son was somehow invalid, that would simply mean the property remained with the original owner. It never became community property of the husband and wife.

Get Help From a League City Divorce Lawyer

Divorce is often a complex, messy affair. It is important not to further complicate matters by not having a clear understanding of what property belongs to the marital estate. An experienced Houston divorce attorney can help you review your situation and determine the best course of action. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.