Texas law requires trial courts to divide the estate of the parties in a manner that is just and fair having due regard for the rights of each party and any children of the marriage. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. 7.001. A disproportionate division must have a reasonable basis. Smith v. Smith, 143 S.W.3d 206, 214 (Tex. App. – Waco 2004, no pet.). The trial court has broad discretion in determining the disposition of property in a divorce action. If there is some evidence of a substantive and probative character to support the division, the trial court does not abuse its discretion if it orders an unequal division of marital estate. However, the division should not be a punishment for the spouse at fault. There is a difference between making a just and right division of the property with due regard for the children of the marriage and punishing the errant spouse. In general, the trial courts in Texas have perceived this distinction.
Generally, in a fault-based divorce, the court may consider the conduct of the errant spouse in making a disproportionate distribution of the marital estate. Young v. Young, 609 S.W.2d 758, 761-62 (Tex. 1980). This does not mean that fault must be considered.
The Texas Family Code sections 3.02 and 3.07 provide six circumstances when a divorce decree may be granted in favor of one spouse. These include the traditional fault grounds for divorce of cruelty, adultery, and abandonment. These sections were codified by the Legislature into the Family Code along with section 3.01 which provides for “no-fault” divorce based on insupportability because of discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.
Texas courts have considered the following factors when equitably dividing a community estate:
- fault in breakup of the marriage;
- the benefits that the innocent spouse would have derived had the marriage continued;
- disparity in the spouses’ income and earning capacities;
- each spouse’s business opportunities;
- differences in the spouses’ education;
- physical health and need for future support;
- the relative ages of the parties;
- each spouse’s financial condition and obligations;
- the size of each spouse’s separate estate and any expected inheritance;
- the nature of the spouses’ property;
- the rights of the children of the marriage;
- waste of community assets or constructive fraud against the community;
- gifts by one spouse to the other; and
- tax liabilities.
The court need not divide the community estate equally. Smallwood v. Smallwood, 548 S.W.2d 796, 797 (Tex. Civ. App. – Waco 1977, no writ). The court has a broad discretion in making a just and right division, and absent a clear abuse of discretion, such decision will not be disturbed. Murff v. Murff, S.W.2d 696, 698-99 (Tex. 1981); Boyd v. Boyd, 131 S.W. 3d 605, 610 (Tex. App. – Fort Worth 2005, no pet.)
When there is no evidence or insufficient evidence to support the property division or an award of attorney’s fees, the appellate court must reverse or remand such decision for a new trial. Sadone v. Miller-Sadone, 116 S.W.3d 204, 208 (Tex. App. – El Paso 2003, no pet).
A party who seeks to assert the separate character of property must prove that character by clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is that measure or degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact (judge or jury) a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegation.
In a popular decision Phillips v. Phillips, 75 S.W.3d 564 (Tex. App. – Beaumont 2002, no pet.), Chief Justice Walker opined that because legislature has now authorized “no fault” divorce, fault could no longer be considered in dividing community estate. However, In Re Brown, 187 S.W.3d 143, 2006 Tex. App. LEXIS 686 (Tex. App. Waco 2006) states that what is “just and right” in dividing the property should not depend on the ground on which the divorce is granted; the just and right division of property is separate from the dissolution issue. If one spouse’s conduct causes the destruction of the financial benefits of a particular marriage, benefits on which the other spouse relied, a trial court should have discretion to consider that factor in dividing the community estate – regardless of the basis for granting the divorce.
To prove a disproportionate division of assets in a divorce case, counsel must put on clear and convincing evidence. Without such support, there will be no disproportionate division of community estate. The circumstances of each marriage dictate what factors should be considered in the property division upon divorce.
In recent years, “parent alienation” has become more prevalent in divorce cases. Parent alienation is the dramatic change in the relationship between a parent and their child when the child is used as a tool by one parent to hurt the other parent. Parent alienation can include much more than brainwashing of a child. In many cases, the child becomes hostile towards the alienated parent as they are fed not just conscious, but subconscious and unconscious, messages by the alienating parent. Frequently, the child will turn on the parent they previously loved and were very close to prior to the institution of the divorce proceeding. In some cases, the alienating parent will go to extreme lengths to keep the alienated parent from seeing the child for long periods of time. Children begin acting out and the situation quickly becomes volatile.
When children are used in such a manner, emotions are quickly aroused and a very simple divorce case can quickly become a highly contested case fueled by resentment and hostility. Parents who are successful in getting primary custody of a child in a parent alienation situation share many similar characteristics and may use some of the following tools to assist them in their defense:
- Keep an even-temper, remain logical and keep your emotions under control. Never retaliate.
- Though you may think of giving up, never do so.
- Go to the financial expense of seeing the case through. Never give up on your child. There can be nothing more important than the happiness of your child.
- Seek help from a skilled attorney who has experience with parental alienation.
- Familiarize yourself with how the courts work and the laws as they apply to your specific case.
- Seek professional help and diagnosis.
- Request a social study into the circumstances of the child
- Request a psychological evaluation of the alienating parent
- Keep a chronology or diary of events (this will help to jog your memory, keep track of witnesses, etc.).
- Document the alienation for submission as evidence in court.
- Keep the best interest of the child at heart.
- Provide the Court with an appropriate parenting plan.
- Make sure you understand the nature of the problem and focus on correcting it, even though you are being victimized.
- Always call and show up for visitation with your child at the scheduled time, even if there is no chance of the child being there.
- Take witnesses to testify that the child is not at home when you exercise your visitation rights.
- Focus on the child, and never talk to the child about the other parent or the divorce case.
- Never violate the Court’s orders.
- If you are receiving disturbing phone calls from the child or the other parent, tape the calls.
- If you are receiving disturbing emails or text messages from the child or the other parent, make a copy and place in a file.
Though none of these tips will guarantee that you get custody of the child, they will definitely assist you in building a case against the parent who is attempting to alienate you from your child.
Divorce, in many cases, has a life-altering impact on a child’s development and well-being. Given that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, thousands of children are impacted each year. Divorce places enormous stress on a child trying to adjust to new feelings and rapidly changing situations in their lives. The resulting instability often leads to resentment towards the child’s parents and a difficulty acclimating to all the abrupt and immediate changes in a child’s life.
Children perceive divorce as a very traumatic event and are very concerned about their security. Many children internalize the dissolution and blame themselves for the breakup. They are scared that both parents may leave them.
Some very disturbing research on children and divorce has just been released by the Census Bureau Study, “The Marital Events of Americans: 2009”.
*1.5% of US children live in the home of a parent who divorced in the last year. The average age of the child is 9.8 yrs. old and the male/female ration is 1:1.
*64% of the children were White, non- Hispanic children, with the largest percentage living in the South (41%).
*Children living with a divorced parent are likely to be in a household below the poverty level (28%) and more likely to be living in a rented home (53%).
*Most children live in a mother headed households (73%). Because mothers have lower earning potential in the labor force, the family often lives below the poverty level.
*These children of divorce are often living with their parents’ unmarried partner (13%). Only 5% of the children are living in a household with a married couple.
Children of divorce often suffer from anxiety, depression and reduced self-esteem issues. Robert Hughes, associate professor in the Dept. of Human Development and Family Science, Ohio State University, found that children from divorce are more aggressive and more likely to get in to trouble with school authorities or police during adolescence. Also children from divorce are more vulnerable to becoming a victim of violence or become a perpetrator of violent acts on themselves and or others.
If you are considering divorce, carefully consider the impact on your children. To help children through this difficult time, parents must realize and accept that they are responsible for this situation and that their children often suffer as a result of the parent’s decision.
Parents should be very sensitive to the child’s emotional needs to ensure the best possible adjustment of his or her mental, physical, spiritual well-being towards a healthy, responsible adult. Remember! Your child is the “Innocent Bystander.”
Seek professional help if you child is struggling with the changes in his or her life. Your attorney knows a resource that may be available to address your child’s pressing needs.
Recently, we have encountered new “Conflict Laden Participants in Divorce” like Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Alex Baldwin, and their Spouses who have shown us how not to get divorced!
Divorce Courts are full of people like this and they are called “High Conflict People” (HCP’s). Are you glad you are not married to one of these people or are you? HCP’s seem very caring and sincere and it may take months or years before a legal professional can identify this personality disorder. HCPs may cause enormous emotional pain and excessive financial costs to their spouse and children before this disorder is brought to light.
Bill Eddy, legal specialist of the High Conflict Institute, has given a list of:
The High Conflict Personality Pattern of HCP Personalities
- Rigid and uncompromising, repeating failed strategies
- Unable to heal or accept a loss
- Negative emotions dominate their thinking
- Won’t reflect on their own behavior
- Can’t empathize with others
- Preoccupied with blaming others
- Won’t accept any responsibility for problems or solutions
HCP’s stay unproductively connected to people through conflict and will continue to create conflict to maintain any sort of relationship, good or bad. Since HCP’s undermine all relationships, they constantly repeat their same patterns and usually end up divorcing repeated times. 20-30% of all couples getting divorces have at least one HCP spouse.
According to the High Conflict Institute, HCPS are driven by four primary fees:
- Fear of being ignored
- Fear of being belittled or publicity exposure
- Fear of being abandoned
- Fear of being dominated, includes fear of losing control over you, the other spouse, their money/assets, or themselves
What can the spouse of an HCP do to help bring the family conflict or divorce to completion?
- Tell your attorney what your bottom line is and stay with your decision.
- Maximize any leverage you have and stay on the course.
- Choose your battles carefully.
- Everything must be in writing.
- Work on keeping total & consistent emotional detachment from the HCP.
Just remember the HCP feels that since you are no longer together, and since you know too much about him/her, you must be discredited so that no one will think that they are the problem!
You will need to learn some pracetical skills on communication and response to your HCP and also when & how to let your attorney deal with this situation, how to enforce your guidelines, and hopefully, your thoughtful and reserved conduct will result in the best possible outcome.
Thirty seven percent of families in the United States are blended families. Sixty percent of second marriages end in divorce. A biological parent has his hands full, but as most step-parents will tell you, their job is even more complicated.
Following a divorce, it is not uncommon for a new step-parent to become the target of unprovoked spite or anger. In many cases, the previous-spouse harbors unfounded fears that their child will look to a new step-parent as a mother or father replacement figure. This can engender resentment to what may already be an uncomfortable situation between parties. Regretfully, these issues often escalate very quickly. Such resentments place the children squarely in the middle of a bitter fight between the people they love the most and are not healthy for anyone involved. The pain of conflicting loyalties to each parent and a child’s feeling of being “caught in the middle” of such disputes exacts an enormous emotional toll on a child. When a parent is in a rage, it is not uncommon for a child to withdraw. The child’s behavior towards the non-primary parent may abruptly change. This change in behavior may have more to do with keeping the primary parent happy than it does with how they really feel about the non-primary parent or step-parent. It is essential that you make it clear to your child that you love them and will always be there for them, regardless of the emotional or less than rosy current circumstances.
It is crucial to a child’s self-esteem and emotional growth that parents avoid putting children in the middle of such disputes. This can be incredibly difficult, however, when a selfish or manipulative parent does not think twice about wrongfully placing his or her child in the middle of conflict. Children are very perceptive and as they grow older they will ultimately realize when a parent has lied to them and used them for their own emotional or financial gain. Though they may temporarily identify with the aggressors, in time they will deeply resent the parent who has manipulated them.
Regardless of the circumstances, it is critical that biological parents avoid arguments or conflicts in the presence of the children. Such conduct is conducive to parental alienation goals of the misguided previous spouse. If the child sees that you maintain a calm and collected demeanor, it gives them reason to pause and feel safe.
If a previous spouse is making statements to the child regarding issues that should only be discussed between adults, tell the child that such discussions are inappropriate and you will take them up with the other parent at another time.
It is ok to tell your child “I am sorry,” if they are upset, even if you are not the parent upsetting them. This validates that they are hurting and relieves any false guilt they may have over things that are being said and done when you are not present. It is sometimes helpful to use everyday situations to explain conflict to your child. As an example, when dealing with conflict explain that “brothers and sisters fight, but they still love each other. Families have to work through conflict in order to stay together. I would not leave you if you made a mistake, I would not want you to leave me.” Such statements reinforces that reasonable conflict is ok and assures the child that you will remain a constant force in their life regardless of the situation.
If you feel that the conflict has escalated to a point of becoming emotionally abusive and/or destructive to the child, consult a Family Law / divorce attorney. It may be in the best interest of the child that he or she be removed from the primary parent and placed with the non-primary parent so that he or she is allowed to love all parental figures, parents and step-parents alike, unconditionally.