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Knowlton v. Knowlton

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

May 16, 2018

Ralph D. KNOWLTON, Appellant
v.
Brenda L. KNOWLTON, Appellee

          From the 408th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016-CI-06309 Honorable Antonia Arteaga, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Karen Angelini, Justice Marialyn Barnard, Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Karen Angelini, Justice

         Ralph D. Knowlton appeals from a final decree of divorce. The dispute in this appeal involves the characterization of approximately five acres of real property ("the property"). Ralph and his former spouse, Brenda L. Knowlton, had lived on the property in a mobile home during their marriage. After a bench trial, the trial court confirmed that the property was community property and awarded one-half of it to Ralph and the other half to Brenda. Ralph contends the trial court erred in awarding half of the property to Brenda because it was his sole and separate property.

         We affirm.

         Background

         At trial, Ralph asserted that the property was his separate property because it was a gift given to him by his mother, Jessie Knowlton. Brenda challenged this assertion. Brenda testified that, in 2013, she and Ralph began the process of obtaining an equity loan to do repairs on the property. On November 18, 2013, Jessie signed a deed quitclaiming the property to Ralph. Brenda explained that she had printed the quitclaim deed "off the Internet, " they had filled it out, and her mother-in-law had signed it. Brenda testified that the intent was for "Ralph to get the property so that Brenda and Ralph could obtain an equity loan to do repairs on the real property." But during the loan application process, the bank would not recognize the quitclaim deed because it claimed the deed lacked a legal description of the property. Therefore, on March 19, 2014, Jessie executed a second deed, a general warranty deed, which conveyed the property to both Ralph and Brenda. Additionally, on September 28, 2015, an attorney filed a statutory correction affidavit correcting the legal description on the warranty deed.[1] According to Brenda, the warranty deed and correction affidavit were done so that both Brenda and Ralph could "properly be owners of the property."

         Ralph testified that he considered the property to be his upon receipt of the quitclaim deed from his mother. Ralph further testified that he did not intend for Brenda to have any ownership interest in the property, or to gift to any part of the real property to Brenda. Ralph explained that the only reason he had "participated" in the warranty deed, which added his wife to the property as a grantee, was to obtain the home equity loan. On cross-examination, Ralph acknowledged that during the loan process he had signed affidavits in which he stated that the property was community property.

         The quitclaim deed, the warranty deed, the correction affidavit, and several other documents related to the home equity loan were admitted into evidence.

         In arguing that the property was his separate property, Ralph relied on the quitclaim deed executed by Jessie. Ralph argued the quitclaim deed showed that the property was a gift from his mother to him. Ralph also argued that the subsequent warranty deed was invalid because Jessie had already conveyed all of her interest in the property to him. In arguing that the property was not Ralph's separate property, Brenda relied on both the quitclaim deed and the warranty deed as well as her testimony about the facts and circumstances surrounding the execution of these deeds. Brenda further argued that the quitclaim deed was invalid because it lacked a legal description.

         After considering the arguments and the evidence presented, the trial court characterized the property as community property and concluded that it was "a just and right division of the parties' estate to divide the property equally between the parties." The trial court ordered that the property be sold, that the net proceeds from the sale be used to repay the home equity loan, and that the balance of the sale proceeds be divided equally between the parties.

         The trial court made findings of fact and conclusions of law. In its findings of fact, the trial court found that Ralph and Brenda had acquired the property during their marriage when the parties were applying for a loan; that Ralph's mother had transferred the property to Ralph by quitclaim deed; that because the quitclaim deed did not contain a legal description of the property, the bank had required a warranty deed to both Ralph and Brenda; and that Ralph's mother had executed a warranty deed to both Ralph and Brenda. In its conclusions of law, the trial court concluded that it was a just and right division of the marital estate that the property be divided equally between the parties, that the property be sold, that the sale proceeds be used to repay the loan, and that the remaining proceeds be divided equally between Ralph and Brenda.

          Rebutting the Gift Presumption

         In his first issue, Ralph argues the trial court erred by failing to find that the quitclaim deed was a valid gift from his mother to him. In his second issue, Ralph argues the trial court erred in failing to apply the presumption of gift. In his third issue, Ralph argues the trial court erred in failing to require Brenda to prove that the quitclaim deed was not a gift by clear and convincing evidence. In his fifth issue, Ralph argues the trial court erred in ...


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