The knowledge you gain from the CFL Certification helps you divide property in divorce settlements successfully, even in tense situations.
Separating property according to state law and a couple’s wishes is one thing, but it’s another when the court intervenes, like in the recent Texas appeals case of Alcedo v. Alcedo. Each party wanted to keep their property separate from a community settlement. But, the trial court needed more proof.
The Alcedos married in 2005. They had been married before and brought separate property into the union, which was dissolved in 2016. They “continually and consistently asserted that they had extensive separate property,” which they pled and testified to and didn’t dispute.
At the trial in 2017, the only issues to decide were how to divide Janet’s retirement account, which was earned during the marriage, and whether the couple had reimbursement claims against each other’s separate property.
Despite the seemingly “clear cut” nature of the case, the trial court issued a letter ruling in August 2017 that divided all of the Alcedo’s assets as if they were community property.
Mr. Alcedo filed a motion asking the trial court to reconsider the ruling. Janet, who received most of his separate property in the letter ruling, filed a response opposing the decision. She stated that “Just because [Tony] is unhappy with the Court’s decisions, does not give rise for the Court to reconsider all the evidence. This is a delay tactic on the part of [Tony], and such a tantrum should not be rewarded.”
The trial court found no clear and convincing evidence of Tony and Janet’s separate property. Thus, it entered a final divorce decree according to the letter ruling, not considering the couple’s uncontested and undisputed separate property.
Tony appealed on the grounds that the trial court erred by failing to confirm the separate property the couple stipulated. He contended that the court abused its discretion in not making a just and right division of the marital estate. He also argued that the court “improperly divested him of his separate property.”
Janet contested the appeal to uphold the final divorce decree and letter ruling, presumably seeking to keep her share of Tony’s property.
Texas Court of Appeals Second Appellate District Ruling
As the appellate court noted, in Texas, all property at the time of divorce is presumed to be community property. But, that’s rebuttable. A spouse must provide “clear and convincing” evidence for the assets he or she claims as separate property. “While the proof must weigh heavier than merely the greater weight of the credible evidence, there is no requirement that the evidence be unequivocal or undisputed.”
The law defines community property as all assets, other than separate property, either spouse acquired during the marriage. Property owned before marriage or received during marriage “by gift, devise, or descent,” is separate and remains so during and after the marriage. “A trial court has no discretion to divest a party of his or her separate property via a divorce decree.”
Also, the appeals court argued that stipulations are agreements, concessions, or admissions the parties makes in a court case. The court noted it shouldn’t include issues that haven’t been stipulated or addressed. Those that have been stipulated don’t need proof and are conclusive through court agreement.
The appeals court found that the trial court lacked discretion to issue a ruling contrary to the stipulations, admissions, and undisputed evidence and in divesting Tony of his separate property. The trial court had misclassified separate property as community property, especially when it awarded Janet most of that community estate.
Because the couple stipulated they owned separate property and didn’t dispute each other’s claims and filed sworn inventories and appraisements, the appeals court reversed the decision. It returned the matter to the lower court to divide the property in “a just and right manner.”
The CFL Credential teaches you all about the details of community property settlements and so much more. In the process, you gain financial knowledge that expands your skill-set while you network with the legal elite. Find out more in our free information packet.
Cases.justia.com. (2019). [online] Available at: https://cases.justia.com/texas/second-court-of-appeals/2019-02-17-00451-cv.pdf?ts=1559315872 [Accessed 10 Sep. 2019].