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.
Divorces with children are painful and emotional under the best of circumstances, but a divorce with a “Special Needs Child” is usually a very complex and mentally stressful situation for all family members involved.
The main goal in a “Special Needs” divorce is that all decisions affecting a child with disabilities must be in the “Best Interest of the Child.”
What is the “Best Interest of the “Special Needs Child”? Often this is the very reason that the parents are divorcing. The parents cannot agree on the existence of a disability or the best approach needed for care and support for their special needs child. Many times a medical/neutral professional will need to be involved to help the parents transition the new “after” divorce life of the child and parents.
When working with parents of a “Special Needs Child”, our attorneys focus on the most critical issues impacting the child and the family unit.
Some of these important issues are:
- Keeping the relationships between the family members agreeable in making the necessary decisions concerning visitation and transitions between both parents’ homes. You child needs contact with both parents unless there is an abuse or addiction issue or the other parent’s home is an unsafe environment for the “Special Needs” Child.
- Agreed upon health and medical care issues including special therapies to address the child’s needs. Let the child know that both parents are in agreement on the care for the child.
- Special social and recreational opportunities and appropriate educational programs are available for the child and her/his disability and should be agreed upon by both parents, if possible.
- Coordinate structured and regular visitation dates with same place drop off points. Give your child a calendar with visitation dates and let her/him be prepared to visit the other parent.
- Helping the parent to find a support group of family, friends, counselors and neighbors to help your family with your “Special Needs” Child. This help may come in many forms, mental and physical support, financial planning or just a good hug to say “you are ok”.
What is very important in a “Special Needs” Divorce is to realize what is “normal” in most divorces may not be the norm here. There are many important situations that will have to be resolved before the divorce can be finalized. The divorced parents of the “Special Needs” Child will continue to have to work together for what is best for their child.
Other serious considerations to settle:
- The transitions after a divorce on living arrangements and visitations for the child. It will be difficult to use a standard visitation schedule and a special parenting plan will have to be agreed upon to meet all of the child’s needs.
- The divorce decree will have to be custom designed to make sure the needs of the child will be met for the child’s entire life. The final divorce decree may have to be modified for the child’s benefit.
- Be knowledgeable of the financial aspect of your “Special Needs” Child. What type of care will be needed on a daily basis and will one parent have to give up all monetary benefits from employment outside of the home to take care of the child.
- List all expenses of raising this child: medical costs, food for special nutritional diets, special medical equipment needed for use of child, special schooling and transportation needs. This is very important to make sure the needs of the child will be met.
- Spousal Maintenance/Alimony: this amount must be worked out to ensure the caregiving parent will be able to afford all need of the child and their household. Many times this parent will not be able to work out of the home because of the constant care for the child. This will usually continue for the entire life of the child, so the divorce decree will have to reflect this continued support and cost of living changes.
When choosing a qualified lawyer for your “Special Needs” Divorce, it is important that the lawyer is familiar with what is involved with this type of divorce and understands the importance of tailoring a custom decree that will fit the best interest of the child and family situation for the duration of the child’s existence. It won’t be easy, but if the parents will work together, it can be achievable!
As we now approach the deadline for filing our 2014 federal income tax return, many divorced parents are asking this question, “Which parent may legally claim their children on their tax return”? This question has become complicated with the rise in fathers’ rights, expansion in non-custodial parents visitation periods, and advance parenting schedules allowing children to spend quality if not equal time with both parents throughout the year.
In the past the Internal Revenue Code provided that the custodial parent was allowed to claim the minor children on his/her federal income tax return. Mom was usually the custodial parent and Dad usually had the children every other weekend.
The Internal Revenue Code states that the parent with whom the child lived with for the greater number of nights during the year is entitled to claim the dependency exemption.
If during or following a divorce in final judgment, the two divorcing parents agree that one parent shall claim the child as a dependent in odd numbered years and the other parent in even numbered years, or if the divorcing parents have more than one child, one parent shall claim some children, while the other parent shall claim the other children, this agreement in your final divorce decree will be honored by the IRS.
If your divorce was final before 2008, just attach the final divorce decree to your tax return. If your divorce was final after 2008, your ex-spouse must fill out IRS form 8332 which provides the name of your children that you can claim on your federal income tax return.
I you are divorced in 2014 and have questions please contact your tax adviser or go to the website http://www.irs.gov/Forms-&-Pubs for more information.