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Cardenas v. Cardenas

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

March 23, 2017

RUDY CARDENAS, Appellant,
v.
CAROLINE CARDENAS, Appellee.

         On appeal from the 135th District Court of DeWitt County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Benavides

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NELDA V. RODRIGUEZ Justice.

         This is an appeal from a divorce decree which divided the marital estate of appellant Rudy Cardenas and appellee Caroline Cardenas. By five issues, Rudy challenges multiple aspects of the divorce decree and the related findings of fact. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

         I. Background

         Rudy and Caroline were married in August 2008. They moved into a house located at 113 Dorothy Street in Cuero, Texas (113 Dorothy) which Rudy had acquired before the marriage. In 2013, Rudy took out a loan of $30, 000, and Caroline used the proceeds of this loan to purchase the house at 115 Dorothy Street (115 Dorothy). Caroline testified that she ended the relationship in March of 2014 and moved into 115 Dorothy. She petitioned for divorce in May 2014. A bench trial was held in August 2015. In December 2015, the trial court entered its final decree of divorce, adopting Caroline's unsworn inventory and proposed division of property. Shortly thereafter, the trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         By his first issue, Rudy contests the trial court's finding that 115 Dorothy was Caroline's separate property. By his remaining issues, he argues that the trial court abused its discretion in characterizing and dividing three other properties: Rudy's IRA account, improvements made to 113 Dorothy using community funds, and a 2010 camper trailer.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review the trial court's division of property to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion by making a division that was manifestly unjust and unfair. Vandiver v. Vandiver, 4 S.W.3d 300, 303 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1999, pet. denied). The values of individual properties are evidentiary to this issue of a just and right division. LeBlanc v. LeBlanc, 761 S.W.2d 450, 453 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1988), writ denied, 778 S.W.2d 865 (Tex. 1989). A trial court has wide discretion in making such a division. Handley v. Handley, 122 S.W.3d 904, 907 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2003, no pet.). An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court rules (1) arbitrarily, unreasonably, or without regard to guiding legal principles, or (2) without supporting evidence. Ford Motor Co. v. Chacon, 370 S.W.3d 359, 362 (Tex. 2012) (per curiam). With regard to ruling without supporting evidence, there is no abuse of discretion if some probative record evidence supports the trial court's findings. In re Barber, 982 S.W.2d 364, 366 (Tex. 1998) (orig. proceeding). As the finder of fact for the proceeding, the trial court is the exclusive judge of the credibility of the witnesses, the weight to be given their testimony, and the best means to resolve inconsistencies in the evidence. Handley, 122 S.W.3d at 911.

         III. Characterization of 115 Dorothy as Separate Property

         By his first issue, Rudy challenges the trial court's decree that 115 Dorothy was Caroline's separate property.[1] He argues that Caroline failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Rudy gave her 115 Dorothy as a gift.

         It was undisputed at trial that in September 2013, Rudy took out the $30, 000 loan in his name only. Caroline used the proceeds from that loan to purchase the adjacent property from their neighbor. The general warranty deed listed the grantee as "Caroline Cardenas, a married woman dealing with her sole and separate property."

         Caroline testified that Rudy had offered to give 115 Dorothy to her as a gift, to do with as she pleased. According to Caroline, the couple jointly consulted a lawyer to arrange for the house to be Caroline's separate property. The couple's pastor also appeared at trial and testified that Rudy had described his plan to give the house to Caroline as a gift.

         Rudy recounted events differently. Rudy explained that the pastor had misunderstood him; he had meant that Caroline would receive the house in the future in case anything happened to him, not that he intended to give the property to Caroline as a gift. Instead, according to Rudy, he intended to own the property jointly with Caroline as an investment, to improve it and to possibly rent it out, but not to give it to Caroline as separate property. Rudy testified that he asked Caroline to take the $30, 000 from the couple's checking account and purchase the 115 Dorothy property in both their names, and that Caroline solely handled this transaction because Rudy was out of town and there was a narrow window in which he could buy the property from their neighbor, who was ...


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