Sunday, October 22, 2006
Property II: Texas Separate Property Tracing: Proving What's Yours
Under Texas Law, there is a presumption that all property owned by either the wife or the husband is community property. At the time you seek a divorce, all the property you own is considered community property (TFC 3.003) and it is subject to having a judge divide between the spouses. The party wishing to prove that he or she owns separate property must put on "clear and convincing" evidence that the property is separate and not subject to the power of the court to divide between the spouses. "Clear and Convincing" is that measure or degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the judge or jury a firm belief or conviction as to the truth that the property is separate (TFC 101.007).
When we describe the process of proving the existence of separate property, it is called "tracing". This can involve investigating past transactions, gathering documents, and presenting to the court, through testimony and written documents such as titles and financial records, how you obtained the property so that it can be characterized as separate property. If fact the community property presumption is so strong, that even if you verbally testify that a certain property is yours, without any written records, and the other side does not offer any evidence against what you say, the property may still be considered community property. Boyd v. Boyd, 131 S.W.3d 605 (Tex.App--Fort Worth, 2004).
A certain piece of property can be considered separate if it was purchased with money from the sale of separate property. For example if a party owns a boat prior to marriage, and then uses the proceeds from the sale of the boat to buy a car after the party marries, then the new car may be considered the separate property of the spouse. However, this tracing must be by clear and convincing evidence. The party trying to make this claim must show how the certain funds clearly went from one separate property to another. If the funds became mixed up with community funds (such as the proceeds from the sale of separate property being deposited for a period of time into a joint checking account) then it may become impossible to prove the tracing and the party will not be able to prove that the car is separate property.
Often times, an expert is used to trace funds through an account. This expert witness will have specialized knowledge due to experience, training or education such as an accountant. They will be able to form an opinion even if their testimony is hearsay and the records they use are not otherwise admissible. They can also submit summaries of their evidence that will be admitted as long as the other side had access to the records which these summaries are based, and would otherwise be admissible as business records.