The holiday season is a special time for getting together with loved ones to make lasting memories with your children.  This is especially important for divorced families.  If you find yourself recently divorced, in a challenging co-parenting relationship, or trying to blend families due to a new relationship, the holiday season may add a layer of stress for you.  Here are some tips to help you manage the holiday season so that you and your child can experience the wonder and joy that this time of year brings.

Tip One: Review your possession order.  You may have standard possession order for holidays, or you may have a customized order.  There are numerous ways to split time with the child during the holiday season with the other parent, and you want to be sure you understand exactly what your schedule entails.  Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the less surprises arise.  It can also help you talk to your child about who the child will be with at specific times during the holiday season.  For example, if you do not have your child this year on Christmas, you can let your child know that you will celebrate together on a different day.

Tip Two:  Talk about gifts with your co-parent.  By doing this you can avoid the child receiving multiples of a particular item.  You should discuss this with your co-parent and other members of your family too.  If the child is with the other parent on Christmas but Santa visits your home, too, it will be much less confusing to the child if Santa leaves different presents for the child at each house.  It will also save you from having to explain what happened to your child because we all know Santa knows and sees everything.

Tip Three:  Keep exchanges of the child stress free.  If you now that someone in your life is a trigger person for the other parent, then keep them out of the child exchange process.  For example, if you are in a new relationship and you know your new person and the other parent do not get along, your new person should not be present at the exchange.  If your new person must be there, having the new person stay in the car or in the house but out of sight is best.  If you and the other parent are having a difficult time, then you can designate a competent adult to handle the exchange for you (assuming your order provides for that).  If you decide to do this, let the other parent know who will be picking the child up instead.

Tip Four: Start a new tradition.  If this is your first year to navigate the holiday season while splitting time with the child with the other parent, this is particularly important and can be a lot of fun.  Children are wise, and they know things are not the same now that you are divorced.  Start making new memories.  Have a cookie decorating contest with your child, make homemade pizzas, get funny slippers to wear around the house, start an ornament collection, or write letters to your child  about things that happened during the year and put it in the child’s stocking.  If your child is old enough, let your child choose a tradition he or she would like to start.

Tip Five: Take care of yourself.  While it is important to help create new memories for your child, you also need to take care of yourself and plan things to do when you are not with your child.  You may find that you are anxious and sad when your child is not with you, especially on the holidays.  It is important to plan some fun things that you enjoy so that you do not focus on the fact they are not with you.  Remember, you still get to celebrate with your child, just in a new and different way.

Blog post by Brandi Crozier

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In divorces and cases involving the parent-child relationship, the court will establish a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child. This parenting plan includes the rights and duties of a conservator and a possession schedule for the child. Courts may consider several factors when determining what is in the best interest of the child, but the Texas Family Code provides some guidance when it comes to possession schedules. Texas law presumes that the Standard Possession Order provided in the Texas Family Code is in the best interest of the child. But this presumption does not apply to children under 3 years of age. This means that when dealing with a child under 3 years old, there is no standard schedule or any guidance in the Texas Family Code. This doesn’t mean the court will not award the standard possession schedule, but it does mean the standard possession schedule is not always the court’s default possession order. When dealing with possession or custody schedules for a child under three, the court will look at many factors. These factors will include the age and development of the child, the length of time the parents have been separated, the relative involvement of each parent in the child’s life up to that point, and the distance between the parents’ residences. Based on these factors, the court will determine what type of schedule will help the child develop and maintain a healthy and trusting relationship with both parents.

Children under the age of three are still developing and have different needs than older children. Parents are always able to present agreed possession schedules to the court for approval, but it is important to keep a few things in mind when developing a visitation schedule for children under three. Having shorter but more frequent visits between the noncustodial parent and the child will help the child feel secure and develop trust with the noncustodial parent. Frequent and consistent visits will also help the child develop a healthy attachment to both parents. Depending on the age of the child at the beginning of the case, the visitation schedule may be divided in to three periods: birth to 18 months, 18 months to 3 years, and finally 3 years and older. The child will have different needs throughout these stages, so it is best to have a step up or change in the possession schedule at each stage that will support healthy development and emotional attachment with both parents. It is a good idea to include gradual steps towards either the standard possession order or a mutually agreed upon possession schedule once the child turns three. This will prevent the need for either parent to seek a modification of the possession schedule once the child is older than three. This is also beneficial since the frequent but shorter visits may become cumbersome for both the parents and the child as the child gets older.

While the best interest of the child is always the primary concern for family courts and judges, it is important to recognize that for young children, the standard possession schedule is not always best. If your divorce or child custody case involves a child under three, it is so important to develop a phased or stair step possession schedule that will continue to serve your child’s needs as he or she continues to grow and develop. Contact The Draper Law Firm to help you create and establish a possession schedule that is in the best interest of your child.

Blog post by Shmyla Alam

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A premarital agreement or “prenup” is an agreement between prospective spouses to alter their marital property rights without court involvement. Chapter four of the Texas Family Code governs these types of agreements.  Parties can agree to the division of household responsibilities, payment of support and living expenses, sharing of child-rearing responsibilities, religious upbringing of children, procedures for conflict resolution, and the disposition of property in the event the relationship ends.  Almost anything that the parties think of can be included so long as it does not (1) violate public policy or a criminal statute, (2) adversely affect a child’s right to support, or (3) defraud a creditor.  Premarital agreements are used to cover both current and future assets.

Who should get a premarital agreement?

Many people believe that premarital agreements are just for the wealthy.  That is not necessarily the case.  Any couple who wishes to pass separate property to children from a prior marriage, avoid conflict in the event of divorce, protect their spouses from each other’s debts, or clarify financial responsibilities may want to consider a prenup.  If a couple chooses to make a prenup, the best practice is to require separate legal representation for each party.  Separate representation helps avoid potential arguments that one party had unequal bargaining power over the other.

What are the requirements for a binding premarital agreement?

In order to be enforceable, a premarital agreement must be in writing.  The parties must fully disclose all property and financial obligations.  The agreement must be signed by both parties before they marry, and it must be sworn to so that it can be recorded in the court records where relevant property is located.  Neither party is required to pay for a premarital agreement.  The only consideration required is the parties’ mutual promises to marry; however, a premarital agreement must be signed voluntarily.  It will not be effective if one party is under duress when they sign.

When does a premarital agreement become effective?

A premarital agreement becomes effective on the date of marriage even though it must be signed before the marriage.  There is no specific requirement on what type of marriage ceremony the couple must have in order to make the agreement effective.

What should I do if my partner wants a prenup?

The first thing you should do is have a conversation with your partner to understand what his or her goals are in asking for a premarital agreement.  Keep in mind that the decision on whether or not to sign a premarital agreement is a personal decision and does not reflect on the level of love or trust in your relationship.  You should look for an attorney to review the premarital agreement independent from your partner’s attorney.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and importantly, communication with your partner is key.

What if I don’t sign a premarital agreement?

If a couple chooses not to sign a premarital agreement, Texas law governs the division of property and debts in the event of a Texas divorce.  Texas is a community property state, which means that each party will own 50% of all property accumulated during the marriage (including salary, real property, retirement, and personal property).  Any property that the party accumulated prior to the marriage remains that party’s separate property, but the burden is on the spouse claiming separate property to prove it.  A court will divide the community property if the parties cannot agree.

Blog post by Samantha Mori

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In Texas family law cases involving children, one parent is often ordered to pay child support to the other. For one reason or another, a parent may fall behind on child support payments. If you are the parent who has been ordered to pay child support, you may be wondering what can happen to you if you fall behind. In the alternative, if you are the parent receiving child support, you may be wondering what you can do about the other parent failing to pay. There are several potential ramifications if a parent fails to pay his or her child support obligation. Below are several ways a child support order may be enforced.

Contempt: A person can be held in either civil or criminal contempt for unpaid child support. In civil contempt cases, the court may order confinement in jail for up to six months and may issue a fine for each missed child support payment. A jail sentence must be served even if full payment is subsequently made. Criminal contempt cases entail an obligor being sentenced to jail until the individual complies with the court order. Typically, the order states the obligor is to pay a certain amount of money or pay all of the unpaid support.  Sometimes courts will issue a suspended commitment, meaning the jail sentence is suspended so long as the obligor makes all child support and arrearage payments going forward.  Courts can also put the obligor on probation for a period of time.

License Suspension: If a person fails to pay child support, his or her licenses may be suspended. This applies to a driver’s license, but it may also include hunting, fishing, and even processional licenses.

Passport Denial: A person may be denied a new or renewed passport if they fail to comply with a child support order.

Lottery Prizes: Although this one rarely occurs, a person’s lottery prizes can be intercepted and applied towards child support and dental and medical support arrears.

Liens: Many people do not realize child support arrears can cause a lien to be placed on a person’s property. A lien can be filed on a person’s property, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and even personal injury claims. It is important to note that a lien cannot be placed on a person’s homestead if it is exempt under the Texas Constitution or the Property Code. If a lien is improperly placed on your homestead property, contact an attorney to assist you with having the lien removed.

Tax Refunds:  The Attorney General will often intercept tax refunds from anyone with past due child support obligations.

It is important to stay on top of your child support obligation to prevent the above measures from being taken against you. If you have lost your job or had a change in employment and can no longer afford your current child support obligation, contact an attorney to assist you in having your child support amount lowered as soon as possible.  Remember, you can never modify child support going backward.  You can only modify it going forward.  If you are a parent who is to receive child support and the other parent has fallen behind, you can contact the Attorney General’s Office for assistance with an enforcement action. You can also contact an attorney to bring an enforcement action on your behalf. Often, private attorneys are able to bring a child support enforcement action much more swiftly than the Attorney General’s office. Regardless of your situation, The Draper Law Firm is here to assist you with various child support issues.

Blog Post by Sarah Marrone

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In Texas, most courts will order a geographic restriction as part of any child custody proceeding.  One parent is often awarded the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  A geographic restriction limits the child’s primary residence to a designated area. In cases where neither parent is given the right to designate the primary residence, the geographic restriction limits where both parents can live with the child.

Why do we have Geographic Restrictions?

The public policy of the State of Texas is to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child.  Courts should encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.

A geographic restriction prevents custodial parents from moving the child outside a particular area without agreement from the noncustodial parent or a court order.  In some cases, neither parent is awarded the right to designate the primary residence, and the parties need guidance on where the child will live.  A geographic restriction will provide parents with that guidance.

How big is the Geographically Restricted Area?

Each court handles geographic restrictions slightly differently, and the size of the geographic restriction varies.  In Collin County, judges will often order restrictions that read, “Collin County and counties contiguous to Collin County.”  A restriction worded that way would allow the custodial parent to move the child’s primary residence anywhere within Collin County or a county contiguous to Collin County, but not outside of that area.  Sometimes judges will restrict the residence to only the county.

If you go to court, you may not have as much flexibility in determining your specific geographic restriction.  We encourage parties to work together to negotiate geographic restrictions that will fit their unique needs.  You should work with your attorney to find a geographic restriction that works for you.  Do not feel bound by broad county restrictions.  If you are negotiating a settlement, you can tailor a geographic restriction based on a specific intersection, school districts, or other landmarks. You can use city boundaries, a radius based on a specific point, or boundaries drawn on a map.

Keep in mind that your possession schedule will also impact your geographic restriction.  A 50/50 possession schedule will require a much narrower geographic restriction because it is in the child’s best interest to limit long drive times.  Even with an expanded standard possession order, the further apart the parents live, the harder it is on everyone for exchanges.  You should consider how long it will take for the child to get to school or daycare, extracurricular activities, and how far apart the parents’ residences will be.

Is my Geographic Restriction permanent? 

Yes and No.  The geographic restriction is in effect until one the following: 1) written agreement between the parents or 2) court order.  If a parent wishes to move the child outside the geographically restricted area, he or she will have to get permission from the other parent in writing.

If the parties cannot agree, the parent wishing to move the child will have to file to modify the order that includes the geographic restriction.  The likelihood of winning a modification will depend on the facts of your situation.  Several factors affect whether a court will order a modification of the restriction, including:

  • whether the move is in the best of the child;
  • the involvement of the parent opposing the move;
  • reason for the move;
  • comparison of education, health, and extracurricular opportunities;
  • special needs or talents of the child;
  • effect on extended family relationships;
  • effect on possession and access with the noncustodial parent; and
  • whether the noncustodial parent has the ability to relocate.

Can I move without a court order or agreement?

No.  If you move the child without agreement from the other parent or a court order allowing you to do so, you may violate your orders.  Your violation could serve as grounds for the other parent to modify custody.  You could face contempt of court, resulting in court-ordered punishments of fines or jail time.  Additionally, the other parent could file a petition to return the child.

Can I move if the other parent moves?

Maybe, but it depends on how your court order is worded.  Many geographic restrictions are worded such that the restriction only applies if the non-custodial parent resides within that zone, but that is not always the case.  If the other parent moves out of the permitted zone and your order allows for it, you can move outside of the zone.  If the other parent has not moved too far, be prepared for that parent to file to modify in an effort to keep you close.

If you are considering moving outside of the area designated in your order, be sure to consult an attorney to find out your options before committing to the move.  The last thing you want to do is have money invested in a move only to find out the court will not allow your child to move there.

Blog post by Samantha Mori

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Many families find themselves faced with the challenges of separation and divorce. Divorce can be a very stressful time in someone’s life. It is often said to be one of the most difficult transitions a person may face. One way to lessen the stress of the divorce process is for you and your spouse to divorce amicably. Here are five tips to assist anyone who may be interested in proceeding through the divorce process in an amicable manner:

  1. Find an attorney that understands your goal of an amicable divorce. Selecting your counsel is one of the most important decisions you will make during the divorce process. If you would like to minimize the contention during your case, you must ensure you hire an attorney who understands your goals and is capable of keeping your desire for an amicable resolution at the forefront of the process.
  1. Utilize a waiver of service. A waiver of service is a document that can be signed by your spouse after receiving a copy of the Original Petition for Divorce. If the waiver of service is properly executed, you will not have to have your spouse personally served with the petition. No one wants to be personally served. Many individuals going through divorce are served with papers at their place of work or home. This can be embarrassing and will likely make them angry. If your goal is an amicable divorce, it is usually preferable to begin by providing your spouse with a waiver of service to sign. If they refuse to sign the waiver of service, your attorney can then have your spouse personally served.
  1. Go to mediation. Many people are adamant they do not want their case to go to mediation. The general negative feeling towards mediation is often unwarranted. Most courts now require parties to attend mediation prior to the case proceeding to trial. This is because many cases can be resolved by utilizing an impartial third party to help the parties reach a resolution. Settling in mediation will save both sides money and lessen the stress that accompanies trial. In most cases, mediation leads to a better resolution for both sides. This is because mediation allows the parties and attorneys to be creative when creating a solution. When attending mediation be sure you go into the process with an open mind and a positive attitude. If you decide the process will fail before you even begin, the process is more likely to fail. Try to keep the focus on your goals and reaching a resolution both you and your spouse can live with. Remember, no settlement agreement is ever perfect for either side, but it is usually better than what the outcome would be at trial.  Even though it may be tempting, it is not a good idea to go to mediation without an attorney.  The mediator’s job is to get a deal done, and she cannot give you legal advice.
  1. Consider seeing a therapist. The end of a marriage is a very emotional transition for everyone involved. It affects the parties and the children. It is important to be aware of your emotional state and to recognize when you may need the assistance of a therapist or counselor. Many individuals need to be able to speak to someone such as a counselor or therapist to help them through this transition. Dealing with your emotions in a healthy way will assist you in keeping the divorce process amicable and preventing resentment. Divorces surrounded by resentment and anger tend to take longer to resolve and are ultimately more costly for both parties.
  1. Focus on the future. Remember that this is a time of transition. You are transitioning out of your marriage and into the next phase of your life. Focusing on the future is even more important to those who have children. If children are involved, you will continue to have a relationship with your spouse even after the divorce is finalized. There is no better time than the present to begin practicing communicating with the other parent. Even if you and your spouse were not ultimately successful long-term partners, you can still be successful co-parents. Parents who divorce amicably are typically better equipped down the road to resolve parenting disputes without the court intervening. Rather than getting hung up on the minutia, focus on your overall goals. If you hire an attorney who understands your goals, your attorney will be able to assist you with staying focused on what is most important.

Take the time to discuss these points when consulting with an attorney. At The Draper Law Firm, we understand this is a difficult time for you and your family and we are ready to help guide you through the process.

Blog post by Sarah Marrone

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Depending on the circumstances of your divorce or family law case, you may hear the Latin terms “amicus” and “ad litem” referenced by the attorneys or the judge in your case. We’re here to help clarify the purpose of an amicus attorney and an ad litem and explain when it would be beneficial to have either one appointed to your case.

The word “amicus” means “friend of the court.” When an amicus attorney is appointed in your case, it is important to know that the amicus does not represent any of the parties or children involved in the case. Rather, the purpose of an amicus is to gather information and help the court determine what is in the best interest of the child. The amicus will not only interview the parties and the children involved but will likely gather information from any other individuals that have valuable or relevant information. This can include teachers, counselors, doctors or other family members that are not parties to the case. This process allows the amicus to gather a significant amount of information, which can include evidence that may not be admissible in a hearing. Requesting that an amicus be appointed in your case is beneficial when the case is very contentious or involves a question of whether a party may be causing significant impairment or harm to a child.

“Ad litem” means “to represent in litigation.”  There are two types of ad litems we see in family law cases: an attorney ad litem and a guardian ad litem.  Unlike an amicus attorney, an attorney ad litem is appointed to represent the interests of a party.  In Texas, a Court may appoint an attorney ad litem when a party is not capable of representing himself or when a party has been served by publication.  An attorney ad litem is sometimes appointed to represent the child and advocate for what the child wants.  In cases involving CPS, the Court will always appoint an attorney ad litem in order to ensure that the child’s interests are protected.  A guardian ad litem may or may not be an attorney and is appointed to represent the best interests of a child.  Occasionally, a court will appoint an attorney in the dual role if attorney ad litem and guardian ad litem for a child.  In the event there is a conflict between what the child wants and what is in the child’s best interest, both need to be appointed.  CASA often serves as the guardian ad litem for the child in CPS cases in certain counties.

If your custody matter is complex, an amicus attorney or an ad litem may be an important tool to protect the child’s interests. Contact the attorneys at The Draper Law Firm, P.C. We’re ready to help.

Blog post by Shmyla Alam

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Digital assets are a huge part of our everyday lives.  The pictures on your iPhone, your Netflix account, documents saved in Dropbox, your Kindle library, and your Instagram page are all examples of digital assets.

While it may seem that digital assets are inconsequential when it comes to a divorce, that may not always be the case.  Technology has become such a significant part of our daily lives that digital assets may have significant monetary value beyond just the sentimental value.

A digital asset is intangible content that is stored in various types of digital formats.  Examples of common digital assets include: e-mail addresses, social media accounts, web sites and domain names, digital media (photos, videos, e-books, movies, and videos), blogs, reward points, data storage accounts (Dropbox, OneDrive), digital storefronts, and virtual currency (such as Bitcoin).

If these digital assets were acquired during the marriage, they will be considered part of the community estate and will be subject to a just and right division by the court.  When going through a divorce, each party should take an inventory of all digital assets that are considered community property.  If a digital asset was acquired prior to marriage, was a gift, or was inherited, it will be considered separate property and not subject to division in the divorce.

Once the digital assets have been identified as part of the community estate, they will be valued.  Valuing these assets is highly case dependent and will often require negotiation between the parties.  For example, a party’s personal social media page may have no monetary value.  However, if a couple has a social media page or website that generates revenue (such as a blog or Instagram account), the parties will want to give it a monetary value and determine who will be awarded the account.  There will certainly be some digital assets that have no value and you should focus on those digital assets that are most important.

When the parties divide the digital assets, the final decree should include language that allows the party who has been awarded the account the ability to change the password.  Additionally, the decree should include language that the party who is awarded the account is responsible for any fees associated with the account.  For example, if one party is awarded a domain name, that party will be required to pay the fees associated with the domain moving forward.

Some digital assets can be “shared,” which a great way to avoid conflict during divorce.  In many cases, digital assets can be copied and re-created so that both parties can have family photos or videos.  In some instances, digital libraries can be copied, but you cannot violate licensing agreements.

It may be a pain to divide these digital assets, but it should be dealt with during the divorce proceedings, particularly any income-generating assets or virtual currencies.  You do not want to deal with this after your divorce has been finalized.

You should not change passwords or block access to a digital asset until you have agreements with your spouse or a court order allowing you to do so.  Preemptively removing a spouse’s access can create bigger problems for you in the long run and in many instances would be a violation of the county’s standing orders.

When going through a divorce, take the time to discuss your digital assets with your attorney.  These are as important as ever and the attorneys at The Draper Law Firm are ready to help.

Blog Post by Samantha Mori, Associate Attorney

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Many times I hear potential clients mention the possibility of attending mediation with the opposing party as an alternative to hiring attorneys.  These people generally seem to think that not hiring an attorney is the best way to keep things amicable with the other side.  Unfortunately, these attempts to keep things amicable or keep costs down can often lead to serious problems down the road.

Mediation is a great tool to help get cases resolved when they cannot be settled informally.  Even though many mediators are attorneys, the mediator cannot give legal advice to a party during mediation.  The mediator’s job is to get an agreement reached, not advise the parties as to whether or not a particular agreement is a good idea.  When a party attends mediation without an attorney, that party likely does not know the law, what he or she is entitled to under the law, what is standard and what is not, or if he or she may be making a mistake that can never be fixed.

Hiring an attorney does not prevent you from reaching amicable agreements with the other side, but it is the best way to ensure you are protecting yourself.  The attorney can help you think of creative solutions, will help you make sure you are not forgetting to cover important issues in your agreement, and will advise you when you should say no.   If your goal is to try to reach amicable agreements with the other side, be sure to pick an attorney whose philosophy aligns with yours and who seems on board with helping you accomplish that goal, if at all possible.

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One of the most common questions we are asked in divorce cases is: What happens with the house?  There are several important factors that go into answering this question.  First, is the house community property or separate property?  The house is community property if it was bought during the marriage (unless purchased with someone’s separate property funds.)  If the house was bought prior to the marriage, it is the separate property of the person who bought it.   This is true regardless of whether or not the couple was together at the time they bought the house.

If the house is community property, the general rule is that if one party wants to keep the house, he or she must (a) be able to refinance the mortgage into his or her own name; and (b) be able to buy out the other person’s share of the equity.  The equity buy-out can occur in a number of ways, such as shifting other assets to the other spouse to account for the equity, a cash-out refinance, or the spouse taking the house takes on additional debt to balance out the equity.  A stay-at-home parent is almost never able to refinance and keep the house because he or she does not have the income to qualify for the mortgage independently.

If the house is separate property, the house goes to the person who owns it.  The non-owning party may be entitled to reimbursement for some things related to the house.  The non-owning spouse is entitled to be reimbursed for one-half of the principle reduction of the mortgage during the marriage and for any increase in value due to capital improvements made to the house during the marriage with community funds.  The non-owning spouse does NOT get the benefit of any increase in value of the house that happened during the marriage.

Below are a few examples of common scenarios we see related to the house.  Each of these scenarios involves the same couple who is together the same amount of time, but the end result can be very different.

Ex. 1:  John and Mary got engaged after having dated for two years.  They looked for a house together, picked it out together, and participated equally in choosing the house.  The purchase price of the house was $500,000.  John was approved for the mortgage on his own, so the transaction took place entirely in John’s name.  John closed on the house on March 31, 2005, with John putting 20% down and taking out a mortgage for $400,000.  John and Mary got married on April 1, 2005 and immediately moved into the house.    No payments were made on the house until after the parties were married, and the couple never made any capital improvements.  John and Mary decide to divorce in 2019.  The remaining balance due on the mortgage is now $300,000, and the house is now worth $600,000.  In the divorce, the house will be confirmed as John’s separate property.  Mary is entitled to reimbursement of $50,000 (for her half of the principal reduction of the mortgage.)

Ex. 2:  Using the same facts as example number 1, except that John signed the contract to purchase the house on March 15, 2005 but did not close on the house until April 15, 2005.  Even though he closed after the date of the marriage, the house is still John’s separate property because he signed the contract prior to the date of divorce.  The result is exactly the same as in example 1 above.

Ex. 3:  John and Mary got married on April 1, 2005 and entered into a contract to buy a $500,000 house on April 2, 2005.  The parties put 20% down (which came from John’s separate property from before the marraige) and took out a mortgage in both parties’ names for $400,000.   The parties divorce in 2019, with the house being worth $600,000 and the balance due on the mortgage being $300,000.  The house is community property, but John is entitled to get his $100,000 separate property down payment back  The remaining $200,000 in equity is on the table for property division.  If John keeps the house and buys Mary out of her half of the equity, Mary will get $100,000 from the house.

Ex. 4:   John and Mary have been dating for a year.  They pick out a house together, and John purchases the house for $500,000 on March 31, 2005.  Again, he put 20% down and took out a mortgage for the remaining $400,000.  The parties moved into the house together on April 1, 2005.  Although the parties lived together the entire time, they did not get married until April 1, 2018.  On the date of the marriage, the balance due on the mortgage was $310,000.  The parties divorce in 2019.  The balance due on the mortgage is now $300,000.  The house will be confirmed as John’s separate property, and Mary is entitled to reimbursement of only $5,000 (for half of the principal reduction during the marriage.)

As you can see, when someone purchases a house is vitally important to how that house is handled in a divorce.  In all of the above scenarios, John and Mary put the same amount of total funds into the house, but the amount of community equity varied dramatically based on the timing of the home purchase and the timing of when the parties got married.  Because of the complex issues involved with community and separate property, it is a good idea to consult a knowledgeable family law attorney if you need to determine exactly what would happen with your house.

house pic

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