If you are going through a divorce and have been set for a Texas family jury trial, you may be concerned about the property division portion of the verdict delivered by the jury. You have every right to be concerned. After all, division of the assets is vital. A jury will not divide your assets, BUT the jury can determine whether or not assets are community property (and can be divided by the judge) or are separate property (and cannot be divided by the judge).
What in the World is Community Property?
Here's an interesting way to define community property: Community property is all property that is not the separate property of either spouse. Separate property is property that a spouse owned before marriage, that a spouse inherited, that a spouse was given as a gift, or property that is a settlement for personal injury. What is community property? Everything else! This could be a couch that you two bought after getting married, money earned from income during the marriage, money sitting in a savings account (regardless of which spouse's name is on the account), the house that the two of you live in, you name it. Texas is a community property state. That means that during your divorce there is a presumption that all of the property is community property, unless you can prove (with clear and convincing evidence) that the property is your separate property. Why does it matter? Because any property that is characterized as community property will be divided by the judge. This is why it is vital that you have an accurate accounting as well as provide the necessary proof to demonstrate to a jury the extent of your community estate.
How Do You Prove Community Property to a Jury?
The interesting thing about community property is you do not have to "prove" it to a judge or jury. Everything owned by you and your spouse is presumed to be community property. The spouse that claims that property is NOT community property has the burden of proof (by clear and convincing evidence) to show the jury that property is separate. However, even with this presumption, making sure that a jury is certain that some property is community may be essential to your case. What if your spouse wants to make a claim for separate property that you disagree with? You'll want to make sure that you provide documentation showing the true nature of the property. Since proving that the property was acquired during the marriage gets you more than half way there, proving the date of inception (i.e. the date that you legally owned the property) could be one of your most important missions. Here are some documents that could help you prove that property is community property :
- Financial (i.e. bank) statements that show that money was placed into an account on a date during the marriage;
- Title to a boat, motor vehicle, etc. that shows acquisition of the title during marriage;
- Receipts or invoices showing loans or other debts acquired during the marriage; etc.
Let's face it. Most of the people that sit in the jury stand may not understand complex property division, especially when there has been commingling (e.g. mixing) of separate and community funds. This is why it is vital that you provide your lawyer with any documentation that could prove the character of property. It is also essential that your lawyer is an expert at presenting evidence in front of a jury in a way that is easy to understand. Trust me, the less confused the jurors are, the more smoothly your case will run.