Summary of Common Family Law Terms (Vol. II)
Summary of Common Family Law Terms (Vol. II)

Summary of Common Family Law Terms (Vol. II)

Summary of Common Family Law Terms (Vol. II)Summary of Common Family Law Terms (Vol. II)- Once again, I’d like to take a step back to reflect on several important legal terms and phrases that have popped up as we continue to dive deeper into family law. Some of these have been discussed in broader detail in my previous blogs, others were mentioned in passing or not at all.

For those of you who did not see my blog from January with a similar summary of common family law terms, you can follow this link (

Between that previous vocabulary blog, and the 30 terms I have highlighted below, you should have a solid foundation as we move forward into more complex blog conversations.

Community debts – Financial obligations incurred during marriage. Should a marriage dissolve, courts can divide that debt between the spouses regardless of who is legally obligated under the contract.

Necessaries – The basic necessities in life that one spouse should expect as support from the other during marriage. Necessaries vary depending on the circumstances of a particular case or where a couple is at in life, but are typically things like food, clothing and shelter.

Married, filing jointly – This is when spouses fill out a single federal income tax return with all income included, and it is the most common way to file. Both spouses are jointly liable for the full amount of taxes due on their combined incomes, even if the income was completely earned by one spouse.

Married, filing separately – Spouses file separate returns, and in doing so, a spouse is personally liable for the federal income tax on that return. However, because Texas is a community-property state, each spouse is still liable for one-half of the community income and for any separate income earned by that spouse.

Filing as head of household – A spouse can only file as head of household if that person’s spouse was not a member of the household for the previous six months, the household is the primary residence for a child whom the taxpayer is entitled a dependency exemption, and if the taxpayer furnished over one-half of the cost of maintaining the home.

Implied consent – Implied consent to medical treatment is invoked when a child’s parent or legal guardian is not available to give consent, especially if the child has life-threatening injuries. In that situation, the law presumes consent would be granted by the parent or legal guardian.

Consent not required – Unlike implied consent, a physician can make the call to provide treatment to a child even if the parents or legal guardians refuse to give consent.

Abuse – An act that results in mental or emotional injury, physical injury or the threat of physical injury, sexual misconduct or controlled-substance use.

Neglect – The act of leaving a child in a situation where the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm, with no intent to return. It also includes not providing food, seeking medical treatment or not intentionally not removing a child from a harmful situation.

Family violence – An act by a member of a family or household against another member that is intended to result in, or is a threat that reasonably places the other member in fear of, physical harm, injury, assault, or sexual assault. It also includes abuse by a family member on a child of the family and dating violence.

Marital property law – This law governs the property rights of married people to provide added support and protection while recognizing equality and promoting fairness between husbands and wives. In the United States marital property laws have evolved into two systems: the community-property system and the common-law system.

Community-property state – Texas and eight other states use the community-property system, a regime under which most property or belongings acquired during a marriage are considered jointly owned by both spouses and are divided upon divorce, annulment or death.

Characterization – A key factor in determining proper ownership of property in a divorce case. In Texas, property is characterized as community property, separate property or mixed property.

Community property – Property acquired or created during the marriage by either spouse, with each spouse sharing equal ownership. In a divorce, all assets and liabilities identified and characterized as the spouses’ community property must be fairly divided between the spouses.

Separate property – Property that came before the marriage (i.e. one spouse already owned a house, received an inheritance, or property as a gift from a third party). Because the property was owned individually by one spouse and then brought into the marriage, a court cannot legally split ownership.

Mixed property – Property is considered mixed when it consists of both separate and community property. For example, when both separate and community funds are used to purchase property – such as a house.

Right-of-survivorship agreements – An agreement under which all property included in agreement will become the separate property of the surviving spouse after the other spouse dies.

Inception of title and tracing – A spouse can prove ownership of property (items or value) based on the time and manner in which they acquired it. If it happened before the marriage, the property is considered separate. If it happened during marriage, that spouse must also provide proof that it was a gift or part of an inheritance. There are five methods of tracing money (clearinghouse, identical sum inference, minimum sum balance, community out first, pro rata).

Expert testimony – Testimony used during a divorce case to help establish the character of property. This comes from any qualified person who has expert knowledge in a particular field. A perfect example is a certified public accountant.

Current Wages – Wages earned during marriage by a spouse. A spouse’s current wages are only considered separate property if the income was earned before the marriage, even if those same wages were paid during the marriage. Wages earned during marriage are considered community property even if that income is paid after the marriage dissolves.

Future Wages – Future wages are expectant; they are not guaranteed and could be impacted depending on a spouse’s post-marital efforts. Therefore, future wages cannot be deemed as community property even if the future wages are earned in part during the marriage. A caveat is if future wages are earned during marriage and they are not contingent on the performance of additional post-marital service, then it is community property.

Appreciation – An increase in the value of property due to market fluctuations or natural growth.

Trusts – An arrangement in which someone’s property or money is legally held or managed by someone else or by an organization (such as a bank) for usually a set period of time.

Privately-purchased life insurance policies – Whole life or term policies that do not build up cash value and are purchased by an individual. They are subject to characterization.

Employer-provided life insurance policies – Purchased by a spouse’s employer. These may or may not be able to be characterized as community property depending on how they are set up.

Commingling – This is a term applied to funds from each spouse that have been mixed over the course of a marriage. A perfect example is when both spouses’ wages are deposited into the same bank account.

Sole-Management Rights over community property – This is when a spouse has the exclusive right to manage community property that would have been that spouse’s separate property if they had acquired it while still single.

Joint-Management rights over community property – This is community property that each spouse must manage equally. Each spouse must give their consent to any transaction involving this type of property.

Sole management rights over separate property – This is when a spouse has the exclusive right to manage, control, and dispose of separate property without the other spouse’s knowledge or consent.

Cotenancy rights over separate property – This is when two people share an undivided present interest in the same property. Each spouse has a present right to enter, occupy, and possess the property.

Please keep this list handy for your easy reference. If you would like us to discuss a particular family law topic in these blogs, please contact our Nelson Law Group, PC office to let us know. We will be glad to help you.


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