iStock-483613578In a Texas divorce, a jury may decide issues regarding the characterization and valuation of property, but the judge is responsible for actually dividing the community property in a just and right manner.  The court may consider a number of factors, including fault, education, ages and physical conditions, financial conditions, and the amount of separate property.  Generally, the court must hold an evidentiary hearing or trial, unless the parties agree on the property division.

Wife Argues Trial Court Did Not Hear Property Issues

In a recent case, a wife appealed a property division, arguing the court failed to hold a hearing on the property division.

The parties married in 2003 and the husband filed for divorce in 2017. The jury did not hear the property division issues, which were reserved for the trial court.  The court stated that it would try those issues during the jury deliberations if there was time or would otherwise schedule a date after the verdict on the issues related to the children.

The appeals court noted that some evidence related to property division was admitted to the jury when it also related to issues before the jury.  The wife’s inventory and proposed division had been pre-admitted before trial by agreement, but the husband did not file his until after the verdict was returned.

No hearing related to property division was completed before the court sent a letter dividing the property about five months after the trial. The court signed the final divorce decree the next month.

The wife requested findings of fact and conclusions of law, but none were in the record.  The trial court denied her motion for a new trial. She appealed, arguing the court abused its discretion in disproportionately dividing the property without an evidentiary hearing or trial on that issue.

Trial Court Had Intended to Hold Separate Trial on Property

The appeals court noted that the record showed “property issues” were reserved for the trial court.  In the pretrial hearing, the judge stated there would be “a separate trial on [property issues] outside of the presence of the jury. . .”

The appeals court noted some evidence had been admitted to the jury that related to some of the factors, but that evidence generally also pertained to issues that were to be decided by the jury. Both parties had made claims of fraud, which they chose to put before the jury.  They therefore presented evidence relating to income, bank accounts, and safety deposit boxes.  The appeals court also found evidence relating to income and businesses was relevant to issues relating to the children. When the parties rested, they did so subject to the issues remaining to be tried before the court.

No Separate Trial Ever Held on Property Issues

There was a hearing approximately a month after the trial.  The judge stated that she could only find one party’s proposed property division and said she would reschedule the hearing on rendition of judgment. The wife did not attempt to introduce evidence at that hearing, but the appeals court noted it was only a few minutes long. The court promptly indicated its plan to reset the hearing soon after the hearing started. Nothing in the record indicated that the parties had rested or the evidence was closed as to the property division.

Nothing in the court’s letter indicated there had been a hearing on the property issues. There was a hearing for entry of judgment in December, but the judge stated the wife’s attorney had not called in and it would enter the order with only the husband’s attorney’s signature.  The court signed the final decree a few days later.

The husband argued that the jury trial included property issues, pointing to certain evidence.  The appeals court rejected his argument, noting that the evidence generally related to other issues that were before the jury. Additionally, certain evidence was pre-admitted, but the court had indicated an intention to try the property division issues during breaks or deliberations if possible. The appeals court also pointed out that the December 2018 hearing occurred after the court announced its ruling, and was noted in the record as a hearing for the entry of judgment.

The appeals court held that a contested evidentiary hearing on the issue of property division was required because the parties had not reached an agreement on those issues.  The parties and the court had agreed that they would be tried separately, but nothing in the record reflected that such a hearing was completed.  The appeals court found the trial court erred when it signed the final decree that including a property division without either an agreement between the parties or a completed trial or evidentiary hearing addressing the property division.

The appeals court reversed in part and remanded the case for a new trial on the issues related to property division.  It affirmed the rest of the judgment, rejecting the mother’s arguments related to the conservatorship determination.

Make Sure Your Rights Are Asserted at Trial – Call McClure Law Group

Courts do not always give parties a fair opportunity to present their cases.  When that happens, it is important to have an experienced Texas divorce attorney to protect your rights.  Schedule a consultation with McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.