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In re Marriage of Douthit

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

April 15, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE MARRIAGE OF ANGIE DOUTHIT AND CHARLEY L. DOUTHIT

          On Appeal from the 223rd District Court Gray County, Texas Trial Court No. 38, 821, Honorable Phil N. Vanderpool, Presiding

          Before CAMPBELL and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.

          OPINION

          JUDY C. PARKER JUSTICE

         Appellant, Angie Douthit, appeals the trial court's characterization of an asset and denial of her reimbursement claim incident to her divorce from appellee, Charley L. Douthit. We affirm.

         Background

         Charley and Angie were married in 2010. Angie filed a petition for divorce from Charley in 2017. A final decree of divorce was filed on February 1, 2018, following a bench trial. In this appeal, Angie challenges the trial court's determinations that (1) the parties' residence, located at 1900 Hamilton in Pampa, is Charley's separate property, and (2) the community estate is not entitled to reimbursement for improvements to another tract of Charley's separate property.

         Standard of Review

         A trial court's division of a marital estate is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Murff v. Murff, 615 S.W.2d 696, 698 (Tex. 1981). A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts arbitrarily or unreasonably, without reference to guiding rules and principles. Iliff v. Iliff, 339 S.W.3d 74, 78 (Tex. 2011). However, the mere fact that a trial judge may decide a matter within its discretionary authority in a different manner than an appellate judge would in a similar situation does not demonstrate that an abuse of discretion has occurred. Sw. Bell Tel. Co. v. Johnson, 389 S.W.2d 645, 648 (Tex. 1965) (citing Jones v. Strayhorn, 321 S.W.2d 290, 295 (1959)).

         When we review a family law case under the abuse of discretion standard, challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence do not constitute independent grounds of error but are relevant factors in determining whether the trial court abused its discretion. Van Hooff v. Anderson, No. 07-14-00080-CV, 2016 Tex.App. LEXIS 466, at *8 (Tex. App.-Amarillo Jan. 14, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op.) (citing Boyd v. Boyd, 131 S.W.3d 605, 611 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2004, no pet.)). In determining whether the trial court abused its discretion by deciding an issue without sufficient evidentiary support, "we engage in a two-pronged inquiry: (1) did the trial court have sufficient evidence upon which to exercise its discretion, and (2) did the trial court err in its application of that discretion?" Boyd, 131 S.W.3d at 611.

         Analysis

         Characterization as Separate Property

         Angie's first issue challenges the trial court's determination that the parties' residence, located at 1900 Hamilton in Pampa, is Charley's separate property. The 1900 Hamilton property was conveyed from Jerry and Traci Douthit (Charley's son and daughter-in-law) to Charley and Angie by warranty deed dated October 29, 2014. Both Charley and Angie testified that the property was acquired in a trade with Charley's son, Jerry, and that no other consideration was given. Charley testified that he traded a ten-acre tract of land he owned before marriage in exchange for the 1900 Hamilton property. Angie, however, contends that the residence cannot be traced back to Charley's separate property, because the evidence failed to establish Charley's ownership of the ten-acre tract which was traded for the residence.

         Under Texas law, property possessed by either spouse during or on dissolution of the marriage is presumed to be community property, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.003 (West 2006). To overcome the community presumption, the spouse claiming certain property as separate property has the burden to trace and clearly identify the property claimed to be separate. Estate of Hanau v. Hanau, 730 S.W.2d 663, 667 (Tex. 1987). A spouse's separate property consists of, inter alia, "the property owned or claimed by the spouse before marriage." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.001 (West 2006) (emphasis added). And, as is relevant here, "[p]roperty acquired in exchange for separate property becomes the separate property of the spouse who exchanged the property." Ridgell v. Ridgell, 960 S.W.2d 144, 148 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1997, no pet.) (citing Dixon v. Sanderson, 10 S.W. 535, 536 (Tex. 1888)).

         Angie's position fails to account for the full statutory definition of separate property. Although Charley did not produce a deed or other documentation reflecting his ownership of the ten-acre tract that was traded for the 1900 Hamilton property, he did present evidence that he claimed the tract before marriage, even though he had not yet obtained the legal title or evidence of title. Charley testified that he purchased the tract from his brother Bob years before his marriage to Angie. At the time of Bob's death, he had not yet transferred title to Charley. Charley paid the taxes on the property for years, and both he and Bob's widow, Gwen, understood that Charley owned the property. When Charley decided to trade the property to his son Jerry in exchange for the 1900 Hamilton property, Gwen agreed to simply convey the tract directly to Jerry. Thus, Charley's evidence showed that the ten-acre tract was property that he claimed before marriage. See Sauvage v. ...


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