Top 20 Texas Family Law Cases Case 2: ARNOLD v. LEONARD.
Understanding Separate Property in Texas Family Law
ARNOLD v. LEONARD, 273 S.W. 799 (Tex. 1925)
ARNOLD v. LEONARD Background
Adele Leonard owned certain separate property which she used as rental property. Adele’s husband had a judgment debt (derived during the marriage) against him which was owed to Guz Shultz who was deceased. The administrator of Shultz’s estate, Gus Arnold, tried to collect rents and revenues from Adele’s separate property assets to satisfy the debt. The trial court granted an injunction in favor of the Leonards and prevented Arnold from collecting Adele’s rents and revenues to satisfy the judgment debt.
The Court Decision
“Since rents and revenues derived from the wife’s separate lands are entirely without the constitutional definition of the wife’s separate property, and since the Legislature can neither enlarge nor diminish such property, it follows that the portions of the Acts of 1917 and 1921, which undertake to make rents and revenues from the wife’s separate lands a part of her separate estate, are invalid.”
Therefore, the rents and revenues collected from the wife’s separate property were community property, and the statutes were held unconstitutional.
Significance of Case
Although separate property is clearly defined in the Texas Constitution, in 1917 and 1921, the Texas Legislature had attempted to expand the definition with respect to separate property
“All property, both real and personal, of the wife, owned or claimed by her before marriage, and that acquired afterward by gift, devise or descent, shall be her separate property; and laws shall be passed more clearly defining the rights of the wife, in relation as well to her separate property as that held in common with her husband. Laws shall also be passed providing for the registration of the wife’s separate property.”
The Texas Constitution
The Arnold Court correctly points out that at no time has the Texas Constitution ever expanded the definition of separate property. However, the prior versions of the Constitution had allowed increases of land and slaves to be included in the definition of a woman’s separate property during coverture. It was likely this definition led to the Texas Legislature venturing into the rents and revenues definitions.
But the Supreme Court, citing previous precedent, determined that the rule of construction of constitutions is that “when the circumstances are specified under which any right is to be acquired there is an implied prohibition against legislative power to either add or withdraw from the circumstances specified.”
Top 20 Texas Family Law Cases: GLEICH v. BONGIO
Read case number 3, GLEICH v. BONGIO, helped clarify separate property in Texas family law.