Jury Trials in Family Law Property Issues

Some states do not allow for jury trials in family cases, but in Texas parties can seek a jury trial in matters involving property and in matters involving conservatorship (custody).  This article addresses property issues. My next article will address parent-child issues. 

In Texas a jury can receive very thorough instructions in cases involving property.  The first issue a jury may be asked to determine is the nature of the property in a dispute.  Is the property separate or is it community?. This notion of separate versus community property harkens back to Mexican family law principles that Texas inherited from Mexico even after Texas became part of the United States.  

After receiving admonitory instructions a jury can be asked to determine whether certain property is separate or community.  Once that determination is made then the trial judge retains the duty and right to divide up the community property between the parties in a manner that the judge determines is just and right under the circumstances. 

A jury can be also be asked to determine whether an informal (common law) marriage exists. A jury can be asked to place values on community property. A jury can be asked to determine whether a “reimbursement” claim can be granted. This gets a bit complicated, but, basically, it involves money or value being passed between the parties’ separate and community estates. For example, if community property or income is used to pay off a party’s separate debt then the party whose separate debt was reduced or paid off with community dollars will usually face a “reimbursement” claim brought by the other party. 

In cases where there is an allegation that a party has “hidden” property within a corporation, the jury can be asked to pierce that corporation in order for money within a corporation to be awarded to the other party. This is called “disregarding” a corporation. 

A jury can be asked to make findings of whether a party has committed fraud against the community estate for his or her own personal gain at the expense of the other party’s use or enjoyment of the affected community asset.

Finally, a jury can even be tasked with the duty of determining whether a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement is enforceable.             

If you are concerned about any of these property issues in your divorce contact a divorce lawyer here in El Paso for a consultation.  We are here for you.  Call us at 915-593-6600 or 915-256-0579.