Mark Nacol

Divorce: What is separate property and what is community property in Texas?

Under the Texas Family Code, a spouses separate property consists of 1) the property owned or claimed by the spouse before marriage; 2) the property acquired by the spouse during marriage by gift, devise, or descent, and 3) the recovery for personal injuries sustained by the spouse during marriage, except any recovery for loss of earning capacity during marriage.

The terms “owned and claimed” as used in the Texas Family Code mean that where the right to the property accrued before marriage, the property would be separate.  Inception of title occurs when a party first has a right of claim to the property by virtue of which title is finally vested.  The existence or nonexistence of the marriage at the time of incipiency of the right of which title finally vests determines whether property is community or separate.  Inception of title occurs when a party first has a right of claim to the property.

Under Texas Constitution, Art. XVI, Section 15, separate property is defined as all property, both real and personal, of a spouse owned or claimed before marriage, and that acquired afterward by gift, devise or descent, shall be the separate property of that spouse; and laws shall be passed more clearly defining the rights of the spouses, in relation to separate  and community property; provided that persons about to marry and spouses, without the intention to defraud pre-existing creditors, may by written instrument from time to time partition between themselves all or part of their property, then existing or to be acquired, or exchange between themselves the community interest of one spouse or future spouse in any property for the community interest of the other spouse or future spouse in other community property then existing or to be acquired, whereupon the portion or interest set aside to each spouse shall be and constitute a part of the separate property and estate of such spouse or future spouse; spouses may also from time to time, by written instrument, agree between themselves that the income or property from all or part of the separate property then owned or which thereafter might be acquired by only one of them, shall be the separate property of that spouse; if one spouse makes a gift of property to the other that gift is presumed to include all income or property which might arise from that gift of property; and spouses may agree in writing that all or part of the separate property owned by either or both of them shall be the spouses’ community property.

In 1917 the Legislature defined and income from separate property to be the separate property of the owner spouse.  In Arnold v. Leonard, 114 Tex. 535,273 S.W. 799 (1925), the Supreme Court held that the Legislature did not have the constitutional authority to characterize the income from separate property as the owner’s separate property.  The court explained that the Legislature’s authority was limited to enacting laws regulating the management and liability of marital property, not its separate or community character.  This decision strengthened the constitutional principal that the Legislature may not define what is community and separate property in a manner inconsistent with Article 16, Section 15 of the Texas Constitution.

There are numerous means by which separate property may be acquired in defiance of Article 16, Section 15, a partial list includes mutations of separate property, increases in value of separate land and personality, recovery for personal injury not measured by loss of earning power, improvements of separate land with an unascertainable amount of community funds, and United States Securities purchased with community funds.

Although such property may undergo changes or mutations, as long as it is traced and properly identified it will remain separate property.

The Texas Family Code defines community property as follows:  “community property consists of the property, other than separate property, acquired by either spouse during marriage.”

Texas Family Code, Section 3.003 states that all property possessed by either spouse during or at the dissolution of the marriage is presumed to be community property and that the degree of proof necessary to establish that property is separate property, rather than community property, is clear and convincing evidence.  Clear and convincing evidence is defined as that measure or degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established.  If property cannot be proved to be separate property, then it is deemed to be community property.

The Texas Family Code, Section 7.002, deals with quasi-community property and requires a court divide property wherever the property is situated, if 1) the property was acquired by either spouse while domiciled in another state and the property would have been community property if the spouse who acquired the property had been domiciled in Texas at the time of acquisition; or 2) property was acquired by either spouse in exchange for real or personal property and that property would have been community property if the spouse who acquired the property so exchanged had been domiciled in Texas at the time of the acquisition.

By Nacol Law Firm | Property and Asset Division
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Big Changes in Texas Spousal Support Laws

Texas House Bill 901 changing the spousal maintenance law in the Texas Family Code became effective for divorce cases filed on or after September 1, 2011. The bill revises the conditions that establish eligibility for spousal maintenance, commonly referred to as alimony, and changes the factors required to be considered by a court in determining the nature, amount, duration, and manner of periodic payments for a spouse who is eligible to receive maintenance.

Eligibility for spousal maintenance requires that the spouse seeking maintenance lack sufficient property to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs.

The new law provides potentially increased relief to spouses who have been out of the work force, are disabled, are victims of family violence or are the primary custodians of a disabled child.

Major changes to the Texas spousal support law are:

1. The maximum amount of spousal support that courts may award increased from $2,500 to $5,000.00 per month, although still limited to 20 percent of the payer’s average gross monthly income.

2. The duration of spousal support extended from a maximum of 3 years to a maximum of 5, 7 or 10 years, generally depending on the length of the marriage.

3. The law clarified that if a person has primary care for a disabled child, the custodial parent may be prevented because of the child’s disability from earning sufficient income to meet the custodial parent’s minimum reasonable needs.

4. The law also clarified that a person may not be held in contempt for failing to pay spousal support which is in an agreed order and extends beyond the period of time provided under the law.

In order to receive “maintenance,” (which is the statutory term for spousal support), the spouse seeking support must lack sufficient property to provide for the spouse’s “minimum reasonable needs”, AND one of the following:

(1) The recipient must be unable to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs because of an incapacitating mental or physical disability;

(2) The marriage lasted for 10 years or longer and the recipient lacks the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs;

(3) The recipient is the custodian of a child of the marriage of any age who requires substantial care and personal supervision because of a physical or mental disability that prevents the spouse from earning sufficient income to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs; OR

(4) The person ordered to pay support was convicted of or received deferred jurisdiction for an act of family violence during the pendency of the suit or within two years of the date the suit is filed.

Under the previous law, under most circumstances, the court could only order maintenance for a maximum of three years, regardless of the length of the marriage. Under the new law, the court can order maintenance to continue for:

(1) 5 years if the parties were married less than 10 years and the maintenance is awarded due to family violence;

(2) 5 years if the parties were married more than 10 years, but less than 20 years.

(3) 7 years if the parties were married more than 20 years, but less than 30 years;

(4) 10 years if the parties were married for more than 30 years.

In cases where the maintenance is awarded due to the mental or physical disability of the spouse or a child of the marriage, the court may order that the maintenance continue as long as the disability continues.

However, in all circumstances, the law provides that the Court shall order maintenance for the shortest reasonable period that allows the recipient to earn sufficient income to meet his or her reasonable needs.

If you are contemplating dissolving your marriage and have questions concerning your financial future, seek competent legal counsel to help you determine whether you could be eligible for spousal support under the expanded provisions of the new law.

By Nacol Law Firm | Spousal Support
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How Can The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) Affect Your Family Interstate Jurisdiction Problems?

Are you a parent having trouble collecting your child support for the children because your EX-spouse lives in another state? This has been a problem for many families for a long time. The United States Congress recognized this problem and mandated all states to adopt the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) to facilitate collection of child support across state lines.

It is no surprise that people move, but when trying to collect child support from an out-of-state parent you may need legal help to avoid unpleasant surprises.

When more than one state is involved in establishing, enforcing or modifying a child or spousal support order, the UIFSA determines the jurisdiction and power of the courts in the different states. The Act also establishes which state’s law will be applied, an important factor as support laws vary greatly among the states.

If there is no current child support order and the child and one parent live in Texas, the order or paternity determination may be established without another state’s involvement. If the parents have sufficient contact with Texas, the court may be able to enter an order even if one parent does not currently live in the state. UIFSA enables Texas and another state to cooperate to establish a child support order if another state’s assistance is needed because of residency issues.

UIFSA permits only one active support order for a case at a time. When there are multiple orders, UIFSA determines which support order will be followed, known as the “controlling order.” Orders may be registered in a different state for enforcement and modification purposes. The initiating state sends the order and documents to the responding state. The responding state registers the order and sends a notice to the other parent. The other parent has 20 days to file written objections regarding the order. If objections are made prior to the deadline, the court will hold a hearing and decide whether the order should be registered.

UIFSA also allows parents to enforce their support orders without the assistance of the state where the obligor (paying parent) lives. A withholding order, in many cases, can be sent directly to the out-of-state obligor’s employer requiring child support be deducted from the parent’s wages. The responding state also has the authority to pursue collection through enforcement hearings, license suspension, or incarceration of the delinquent, non-custodial parent.

If financial or other circumstances have changed, you may also request the court to modify a child support order. UIFSA sets the rules for modification. If either of the parents or the child still lives in the state that issued the controlling order, changes in the support amount must occur there. Otherwise the order may be registered and modified in the child’s home state. The child’s home state is generally where the child has resided for six (6) months with a parent.

If all parties have left the state that issued the controlling order, that state cannot change the support amount. To modify support, the order must be registered for modification in the state of residence of the parent not seeking modification.

UIFSA allows both parents to agree in writing that the state where one parent resides may modify the order and take control of the case. When a state modifies another state’s order, the new support amount is the amount to be collected by all any state in which the obligor resides.

Parents often turn to the Texas Attorney General for assistance in the collection and enforcement of child support, and that can be a good choice. However, parents – especially those who are experiencing continued delays and roadblocks – can hire a private attorney to advocate on their behalf and for the benefit of their children. An attorney can also provide guidance in enforcing and modifying terms of visitation.

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Think Before Posting on Social Networks

Everyday millions of people log into their favorite social networking sites to start their day, catch up during the day and end the day visiting with friends, business associates or looking for new contacts. What we are all doing is giving and receiving information about ourselves and others! A recent Pew Report states that 50% of the U.S. population uses social networking websites on a regular basis and 26% of the 50+ population engages in social networking!

Other interesting facts from Pew Reports: the U.S. 18-29 year-olds use their cell phone for the internet compared with 49% of 30-49 year-olds and 21% of 50+ users. The popularity of texting, taking pictures or video is increasing the use of social networking sites for all ages. These users of social networking and messaging services post information without much discretion or future perception as to what is said and how this information can legally be used against them down the road.

The Ten Most Popular Social Networking Sites of 2012 – taken from Hitwise.com (1/7/2012)
1.  Facebook, 64.28% visits share
2.  You Tube, 19.57% visits share
3.  Twitter, 1.48% visits share
4.  Yahoo!Answers .96% visits share
5.  Tagged, .75% visits share
6.  Linkedin, .67% visits share
7.  Pinterest.com, .48% visits share
8.  MySpace, .44% visits share
9.  Google+, .42% visits share
10.  MyYearbook .39% visits share

You should exercise careful thoughtful judgment when posting on social networking sites.
Think before your post! Could this post , which is one click away to immortality, be potentially damaging to you, others you care about or business relationships?

In today’s world, many lawyers are asking very specific questions to their clients concerning email addresses, use of social networking sites and types of personal information the client has posted about themselves, or information publicly disclosed from other people’s social networking. Many lawyers now ask their clients to stop using or to deactivate their social networking sites during their litigation process. Better safe than sorry!

The use of Electronically Stored Information (ESI) is now starting to be addressed by the U.S. Government and many states regarding usage for legal issues. The Federal Rules have been recently amended to mention ESI and set up a framework on dealing with this information. The new rules include ESI to email, web pages, word processing files, computer databases, and just about anything that is stored on a computer. The definition of ESI also includes traditional email, instant and text messaging, voice mail, personal webmail, blogging and other new emerging technologies. Potential relevant information from any of these sources must now be preserved by litigants in the federal courts. Just remember what you do or say online can and will be used against you and distorted since “you said it”!

By Nacol Law Firm | Social Networking
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Texas SB785: New Texas Law for Mistaken Paternity

We hear a lot about dead-beat dads, or parents who do not pay their child support obligations.  Now it is time for “fathers” or men who have been paying child support for children who are not their biological children to assert their rights.

Texas has a new law, Texas SB785, which permits men who have been ordered to pay child support, without genetic testing, to request genetic testing in order to determine whether they are the genetic parent of the child. 

But the clock is ticking.   If you suspect that you are paying child support for a child who is not your biological child, you must file the petition before September 1, 2012.

After September 1, 2012, a man must file a petition to determine genetic parentage no later than the first anniversary of the date on which he becomes aware of facts indicating that he is not the child’s genetic father.

In order to file for relief under this new law, the man must have signed an acknowledgement of paternity or failed to contest paternity in the previous proceeding because of a mistaken belief that he was the child’s father based on misrepresentations that led him to that conclusion.

If the man knew he was not the father at the time he signed the acknowledgement of paternity or the previous court order, the new law does not apply.

If the genetic testing concludes that the man is not the child’s genetic father, the court shall render an order terminating the parent-child relationship and terminating the man’s obligation for future child support.

The new order, however, does not affect the man’s obligations for child support or child support arrearages accrued before the date of the order.  However, the accrued obligations are not enforceable by contempt proceedings. 

Even if the parent-child relationship is terminated, the man may request the court to order period of possession or access to the child following the termination.  The court may order periods of possession or access to the child only if the court determines that denial of possession or access would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being.  The law directs the court to focus on the child’s well-being, not on the man’s desire to continue seeing the child.

If you have been paying child support due to a mistaken belief that you were the father, the time to act is now.  If you wait to file for relief, you will be barred.  Contact an attorney now! 

By Nacol Law Firm | Paternity
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