This is the first post in a three-part series on “reimbursement claims” in divorce. In fashioning a property settlement in divorce, claims for “reimbursement” are a common factor faced by the parties and courts. In simple terms, a reimbursement claim requests “payback” for the benefit one marital estate conferred on another marital estate, such as when the community estate conferred a benefit on one spouse’s separate property estate. An example will help explain how this might work.
Husband bought a house prior to marriage. Husband marries wife and they live together in husband’s house for 10 years prior to wife filing for divorce. In her divorce petition, wife asks the court to reimburse the community estate for the benefit it conferred on husband’s separate property estate by way of the community’s payment of the mortgage during 10 years of marriage. How does this claim arise? Well, each spouse’s income, which was used to pay the mortgage, is community property. The claim for reimbursement would hold even if husband was the only wage earner during the marriage because his income is community property. A plea that “I used ‘my’ income to pay the mortgage on ‘my’ house” would ring hollow.
How much is the reimbursement claim? Let’s say the mortgage payment is $1,000 per month, which includes principal, interest, taxes and insurance. Simple math might suggest that wife’s reimbursement claim should be $120,000 ($12K/year for 10 years). Is that the right amount? You might think so, but the answer is, “no.”
Texas Family Code Section 3.402 defines reimbursement claims. For our example (one spouse’s separate property home, which is a secured debt), the Code limits the claim to the reduction in principal on the secured debt. For simplicity, let’s say that a comparison of the mortgage statement immediately prior to marriage with the statement immediately prior to divorce revealed that the mortgage principal had been reduced by $60,000. Thus, the community estate that the court will divide in divorce should be increased in value by $60,000.
Reimbursement is not a “right.” Reimbursements are equitable claims that the court may, but is not required, to consider and grant based upon all the factors at play in specific case before the court.
Author Jim Cramp is the founder and principal attorney at the Cramp Law Firm. The Cramp Law Firm provides a spectrum of family-related legal services in the greater San Antonio Region.