By now I’m sure you’ve known someone that has gotten a divorce that talks about dividing up property with their ex-spouse, and some might have even expressed frustration that their ex-spouse “took everything they had.” Divorce is an emotional process, which is sometimes further fueled by the fact that your spouse is entitled to “your stuff.” But why is that so?
Texas is a community property state. Community property is defined as property acquired by either spouse during marriage. So whether your husband went out and bought a boat or your wife went out and bought a designer purse, if it was purchased during marriage, it is considered community property (with a few exceptions, which we will get to). This means that that boat and designer purse are also your property, even though your spouse purchased it. In fact, the Court PRESUMES that all of your property is community property until you prove otherwise.
Separate property, which is property that you will keep 100% in the divorce, is any (1) property you owned before marriage, (2) property you acquire at any time by gift, devise, or descent, and (3) recovery for personal injuries sustained by you at any time. Let’s break that down a little.
First, if you purchased or acquired the property prior to marriage, it’s your separate property. You will have to prove to the Court that the purchase or acquisition was made prior to marriage, which is why keeping records is important. Things get a little fuzzy if you begin to use this separate property with your spouse once you get married. For example, if you put a down payment on a home that you purchased before marriage, but you and your new spouse end up living in the home once you get married, paying the mortgage out of community funds, and make improvements on the home while you are married, this makes the issue a little more convoluted. An experienced family law attorney can walk you through your rights in the property.
Second, if you receive any property as a gift, devise (someone left it to you in their will), or descent (you received it because someone passed away without a will and you are their heir), this is also your separate property. You will still have to prove to the Court that you did, in fact, receive the property via gift, devise, or descent. Devise and descent are a little easier to prove because often there are probate proceedings regarding the property in the Court records. A gift might be a little trickier to prove, as most of the time people don’t keep official records of their gift-giving. This might require calling the gift-giver as a witness to prove their intention that it was a gift.
Last, if you have filed a personal injury lawsuit, most of the recovery award would be considered separate property for your injuries. There are exceptions to this, like damages for “loss of consortium” which relates to your spouse. This issue is best discussed with an experienced family law attorney if it applies to you.
Now that you understand the ins and outs of community and separate property, you’re probably wondering how the Court will divide that property in a divorce proceeding. Well, first, if you have proven to the Court that a piece of property is your separate property, the Court will confirm it as your separate property and award it 100% to you. Then, the court will divide all community property in “a manner that the court deems just and right, having due regard for the rights of each party and any children of the marriage.” Texas Family Code Section 7.001. What does just and right mean? It means the Court can take into consideration whether to divide the property equally or unequally based on the claims of the parties. If a party presents a valid reason for an unequal division of property, the Court might give more property rights to one spouse than the other. This is a discussion you should have with your attorney to determine if you have a valid claim for a larger share of the community property in a divorce.
Working with an experienced family law attorney can help you understand your property rights in your divorce. Reach out to us today to schedule a consult!