What Happens in Texas if a Petitioner Refuses to Follow the Divorce Decree for Property Settlement?
By Beverly Bird
In Texas, as in most states, divorce decrees can reflect a settlement agreement between spouses or terms ordered by a judge after a divorce trial. If you divorce by settlement agreement, a Texas court typically can't change its terms regarding property later. Its provisions are enforceable, however, if your ex-spouse ignores them and forces you to take him back to court.
Community Property Law
Texas is a community property state, so both spouses have an equal right to ownership of property acquired during the marriage. Texas is somewhat more progressive than other community property states, however. Its courts will sometimes consider factors that might make an equal 50/50 split of marital property inequitable. Spouses can spare themselves the uncertainty of what a court might order by reaching an agreement on their own, and the court will typically honor it and incorporate it into a decree.
Changing the Decree
If your divorce issues were settled by trial, you have 30 days under Texas law to appeal the judge's decision regarding your decree's property terms. If you settled with your spouse by way of an agreement, you voluntarily agreed to its terms, so there's no right of appeal. You can go back to court to modify its custody, child support or alimony provisions, but property terms are usually set in stone. Your spouse must abide by them, even if he decided after signing the agreement that he doesn't like them.
Some property settlement violations are understandable because they involve unforeseen circumstances or reasonable concerns. For example, if you're retaining the marital home, and if you spouse is obligated to convey your interest to him via a quitclaim deed, he might refuse to do so until you've refinanced to relieve him from any liability for the mortgage. You can usually resolve this type of issue by having him sign the deed at the time of closing.
When issues can't be resolved amicably, Texas law allows you to take your spouse back to court to enforce your decree. You can do this whether you were divorced by trial or marital settlement agreement by filing a post-judgment enforcement motion. The motion should explain what provisions your spouse is refusing to follow and what you want the court to do about it. Although the court can't change your settlement agreement provisions regarding property, you can ask the judge to revise the language to make your respective obligations more clear. You can ask the judge to order your spouse to turn over property to you that was granted to you in the decree, or to enter a money judgment against your ex so you can be compensated if his refusal has cost you financially. If your ex repeatedly refuses to follow the terms of your decree, you can ask the judge to hold him in contempt of court and impose fines or jail time.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.