Top 20 Texas Family Law CasesCase 4: CAMERON v. CAMERON.
The fourth case in our Top 20 Texas Family Law Cases series is CAMERON v. CAMERON. Before CAMERON v. CAMERON, Texas divorce lawyers were unsure if separate personal property was considered community property in Texas even if it was acquired in common law property states.
Community Property v. Common Law Property System
States have different ways of handling community property during a marriage. Most states utilize the common law property system. This means that any property acquired during a marriage is considered separate property unless the person agrees to let the spouse hold the property jointly. In a select few states, including Texas, they use the community property system which typically means any property acquired by either spouse during marriage is considered community property.1
Community Property System States
- New Mexico
Understanding Separate Personal Property in Texas Divorce Law
CAMERON v. CAMERON, 641 S.W.2d 210 (Tex. 1982)
CAMERON v. CAMERON Background
Cameron involved a divorce where certain property had been acquired in various common law property states during the marriage. The property considered on appeal was military retirement pay and United States Savings Bonds. The savings bonds were acquired by Husband in common law property states.
Husband was in the military when he married Wife. The couple were married in Texas, moved to California shortly after the marriage but only stayed in California for 3 months before moving to other states which were common law property states. They returned to Texas upon Husband’s retirement from the military.
The trial court divided the military retirement and the savings bonds because they were married in Texas, which uses the community property system. However, The Court of Appeals held that the savings bonds and military retirement acquired in common law property states belonged to Paul’s separate estate and thus, could not be divided by the trial court.
The Court Decision
Separate personal property is treated the same in Texas as separate real property, and a Court may not divest a spouse of separate real property or separate personal property. This means the spouse is entitled to a portion of the property under Texas law. Additionally, the property that spouses acquire during a marriage should be divided upon divorce in Texas in the same manner as community property, irrespective of where the spouses live when they acquire the property.
Significance of Case
While the divorce was pending, the status of military retirement changed dramatically – twice. The division of military retirement pay was settled in the 70’s with the rulings in Taggart and Cearley. However, in 1981, the United States Supreme Court took up the issue of military retirement and determined that state trial courts could not divide federal, military retirement.
So, interestingly, during the trial, military retirement was divisible, but during the time the case was on appeal, the division of military retirement was restricted by the United States Supreme Court. Therefore, Wife asked the Texas Supreme Court to remand the issue so that the trial court could award her more property in lieu of losing her award of military retirement.
However, on September 9, 1982, just in time to save Wife, President Reagan signed the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, Pub. L. No. 97-252, 96 Stat. 730 (1982). This act overruled McCarty and gave trial courts the power to divide military retirement “in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction of that court” to retirement accrued after June 25, 1981. Therefore, the Cameron Court determined that a trial court could divide military retirement, but only post-1981 retirement.
After determining that community property military retirement was divisible, the Cameron Court studied the issue as to whether or not the military retirement and savings bonds acquired in common law property state was divisible.
Five years prior to this case, the Texas Supreme Court held that a trial court could not divest a person of their separate real property, but failed to specifically address separate personal property. The Cameron Court extensively analyzed the history of separate property in both Texas and the other community property states and affirmed their holding in Eggemeyer. To the extent that the Eggemeyer Court did not address personalty, the Cameron Court cleared up.
“To hold that the owner of separate realty may not be divested of his property, but that the owner of vendor’s lien notes secured by the same realty or that the owner of stock in a corporation owning the realty could be divested would be an unreasonable classification of property.”
CAMERON v. CAMERON, 641 S.W.2d 210 (Tex. 1982)
Thus, the Cameron Court finally settled that (1) separate personal property is treated the same as separate real property, and (2) community property shall be divided by Texas or San Antonio family law attorneys in Texas regardless of the state where that property was acquired.
Top 20 Texas Family Law Cases: COCKERHAM v. COCKERHAM
The next case on our list is COCKERHAM v. COCKERHAM. This case is important to Texas family law because it analyzed the meaning in the definition so joint and sole managed property.