When buying and selling real property in Texas, a working knowledge of Texas marital property law can be helpful. Texas is one of nine of the United States using a community property system for marital property. The rest of the states have laws regarding equitable distribution. The equitable distribution laws govern how property is distributed to the spouses upon divorce. In states that do not have a community property system, all property of each spouse is treated as separate property, subject to equitable distribution upon divorce.
In Texas, “property, other than separate property, acquired by either spouse during marriage” is community property. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.002. In Texas, just about any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage becomes community property owned by both spouses. Each spouse owns the community property jointly with the other spouse. In the case of real property acquired by the spouses during the marriage, Texas community property law allows for one spouse to own property jointly with the other as community property even when one spouse is left completely off of the deeds and other instruments in the chain-of-title. These unrecorded community property interests can cause some of the most pernicious Texas marital property issues that drive title attorneys wild. All community property that the spouses acquire during marriage is often referred to as the “community estate,” while the separate property of each spouse is referred to as that spouse’s “separate estate.”
Generally, separate property is property owned prior to the marriage or acquired during the marriage by gift or inheritance. In the event of a dissolution of marriage, a court cannot divest a spouse of his or her separate property. Eggemeyer v. Eggemeyer, 554 S.W.2d 137 (Tex. 1977); Leighton v. Leighton, 921 S.W.2d 365 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1996); McElwee v. McElwee, 911 S.W.2d 182 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1995, writ denied).
Economic Contribution or Reimbursement Claims—Typically Arising When One Spouse Buys Real Estate Prior to Marriage With a Loan, and Then Pays the Loan Off During the Marriage
Real property acquired before the marriage is separate property even if the property is refinanced during the marriage. In re Marriage of Jordan, 264 S.W.3d 850, 856 (Tex. App. 2008), overruled on other grounds by Matter of Marriage of Ramsey & Echols, 487 S.W.3d 762 (Tex. App. 2016). A refinance may give rise to a claim for economic contribution or reimbursement of any community funds paid toward the refinanced debt, but this contribution claim does not affect the characterization of the property as separate property. Id.; also see Tex. Fam. Code § 3.404. Property purchased before marriage remains separate property even when part of the unpaid purchase price is paid during marriage from community funds because the status of property as being either separate or community is determined at the time of its acquisition, and such status is fixed by the facts of its acquisition. Villarreal v. Villarreal, 618 S.W.2d 99 (Tex. Civ. App.—Corpus Christi 1981, no writ). The proceeds of the sale of separate property remain the separate property of the spouse whose property was sold. Scott v. Scott, 805 S.W.2d 835 (Tex. App.—Waco 1991, writ denied).
There is consensus among the courts of appeals that advances for interest expense, taxes, or insurance on property owned by either of the separate estates is offset by any benefit conferred on the community from use of the property. § 14.9.Establishing and measuring the right of reimbursement for funds advanced, 38 Tex. Prac., Marital Property And Homesteads § 14.9 (aggregating voluminous caselaw on the subject). This consensus appears to have been more-or-less codified in the 2009 reimbursement statute. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.402(c). Caselaw subsequent to the 2009 reimbursement statute acknowledges that the new statute continues the rule that benefits to the community estate must be recognized and offset where the community estate seeks reimbursement for interest, taxes, or insurance. Barras v. Barras, 396 S.W.3d 154, 177 n. 17 (Tex. App.—Houston 2013). “An equitable right of reimbursement is created where a marital estate advances moneys to pay expenses of another marital estate. This right of reimbursement is generally measured by the amount of the funds advanced. However, where moneys are advanced to benefit property owned by another estate and the property benefited is also used by the advancing estate, a right of offset for the benefit from such use may be created against the advancing estate. This offset right is most often asserted successfully where the advancing estate uses property rent-free for which it advances moneys to pay taxes and interest.” § 14.8.Introduction to the right of reimbursement for funds advanced, 38 Tex. Prac., Marital Property And Homesteads § 14.8. Furthermore, a reimbursement claim does not give the claimant a legal proprietary interest in the separate property, but rather merely a right of reimbursement. Id.; Marburger v. Seminole Pipeline Co., 957 S.W.2d 82, 139 O.G.R. 618 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1997, pet. denied); Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.404.
Income from separate property accruing during marriage is community property. In re Marriage of Cigainero, 305 S.W.3d 798, 802 (Ct. App.—Texarkana 2010). Accordingly, where a mortgage loan used for purchase of separate property prior to marriage is paid down using income accumulated during the marriage, the community estate may be entitled to reimbursement for those payments as the payments did not come from separate property. Id.
Separate property commingled with community property remains separate property as long as its identity can be traced. Jones v. Jones, 890 S.W.2d 471 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 1994, writ denied). However, where separate property has become so commingled with community property as to defy segregation and identification, the entire property is presumed to be community property. Estate of Hanau v. Hanau, 730 S.W.2d 663 (Tex. 1987); Gutierrez v. Gutierrez, 791 S.W.2d 659 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1990, no writ). Thus, as long as the separate funds can be traced, they may be deposited in a joint account without losing their character as separate property. Celso v. Celso, 864 S.W.2d 652 (Tex. App.—Tyler 1993, no writ); Welder v. Welder, 794 S.W.2d 420 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 1990, no writ). § 8:217. Commingled property, 2 Tex. Prac. Guide Family Law § 8:217.
With regard to personal liability, like credit card and other unsecured debt, a person is liable for debts incurred by such person’s spouse only where (1) one spouse acts as agent for the other, or (2) the debt was for necessaries. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.201. Moreover, a spouse does not act as agent for the other spouse solely because of the marriage relationship. Id.
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Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. Do not rely on any part of this blog as legal advice. Instead, seek out the advice of a licensed attorney. Also, this information may be out-of-date.