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Texas Supreme Court to Reconsider Property Division in Fault-Based Divorces

Texas is a community property state. In plain terms, this means that all property acquired during a couple’s marriage is presumed to belong to both spouses equally. But this does not necessarily mean that community property is divided equally in the event of divorce. So if you live in the Galveston area and sue your spouse for divorce on grounds of fault you can ask for a greater share of the community property if you can prove such a distribution would be “just and right.”

Wife Seeks 100% of Marital Estate Due to Husband’s Child Abuse

The Supreme Court of Texas recently agreed to review the “just and right” distribution of property in a divorce case arising under particularly horrific circumstances. What is especially notable here is the spouse who initiated the appeal actually previously received a disproportionate share of the couple’s community property–80 percent–but she maintains that she is entitled to 100 percent as a matter of law. This is what the Supreme Court will have to determine.

The wife in this case originally sought a no-fault divorce. But she later moved to seek divorce on grounds the husband’s “cruelty.” More precisely, the wife said the breakup of the marriage was the direct result of the husband sexually abusing the wife’s two daughters. In a separate criminal proceeding, the husband was convicted of “continuous sexual abuse” of a minor under the age of 14 and is presently serving a 60 year prison sentence.

An intermediate appeals court held that despite the husband’s unfathomable acts, that alone did not justify awarding 100 percent of community property to the wife. The appeals court cited a 1980 Texas Supreme Court ruling that said division of a marital estate “should not be a punishment for the spouse at fault.” In her present appeal, the wife argues the intermediate court “misconstrued” the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling and took an unfairly “narrow view of egregious fault by the husband in the breakup of the parties’ marriage.”

As the wife explained in her formal brief to the Supreme Court, the primary marital asset is the couple’s home, where the wife currently resides with her daughters. During the husband’s criminal trial, the daughters testified the home is where the husband committed his multiple acts of sexual abuse. Given these facts, the wife argued it would not constitute “punishment” to award her sole ownership of “residence that was the crime scene for the egregious behavior” of the husband. In short, the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling “should not be read to approve of the property division at bar that rewards a husband who has been convicted of multiple criminal acts on his wife’s children.”

In a reply brief, the husband argued the divorce court acted within its discretion to award the wife an 80 percent share of the marital estate, and that “property divisions never have one correct answer” under law. The husband maintained his criminal record should not be given “exclusive” weight and that the Supreme Court has never “identified a circumstance requiring an unequal distribution of the marital estate, let alone an award of the entire estate to one spouse.”

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in this case for February 28, 2018. A final decision is expected sometime thereafter.

Speak With a Galveston Divorce Attorney Today

If the Court sides with the wife in this case, it could represent a critical shift in Texas divorce law with respect to fault and property division. If you are contemplating divorce yourself and need advice on how the law may affect your situation, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Galveston at (281) 280-0100 today.