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Understanding HB 1547: A Simplified Guide to Texas’ New Marital Reimbursement Law

partial view of lawyer and client sitting at table with divorce decree and wedding rings

Texas law is continuously evolving to reflect societal changes and meet the varying needs of its citizens. In that vein, the Texas legislature has recently passed a new law, House Bill 1547 (HB 1547), that significantly alters the way a spouse can claim reimbursement from the marital estate during a divorce. These changes involve a complex legal area, but it’s one that is vital to understand in a Texas divorce case. This blog post aims to break down the key components of this new law in a way that’s easily understandable, even if you aren’t a divorce lawyer. For help with divorce in Texas, including complex property division issues, call the Law Office of Maria Lowry for advice and representation from an experienced and dedicated Houston family law attorney.

Before we delve into the specifics of the new law, it’s essential to understand some basic terminology:

  1. Marital Estate: This refers to all property, assets, and debts that are accumulated during a marriage. In Texas, most property acquired during a marriage (with some exceptions like individual gifts or inheritances) is considered to be jointly owned by both spouses, with each spouse owning a one-half interest in each asset and the marital estate as a whole.

  2. Reimbursement Claim: During a divorce, if one spouse used their separate property (property owned before the marriage or received as a gift or inheritance during the marriage) for the benefit of the marital estate, they may file a reimbursement claim to recover the value of this contribution from the marital estate. This could result in an unequal distribution of marital property, but one that is considered fair given the circumstances.

Now, let’s unpack the key changes made by HB 1547.

Broader Guidelines for Reimbursement Claims

Previously, the section of the law on claims for reimbursement listed specific examples of when a claim for reimbursement could be pursued. That list of examples has now been discarded in favor of a more general statement that “a claim for reimbursement exists when one or both spouses use property of one marital estate to confer on the property of another marital estate a benefit which, if not repaid, would result in unjust enrichment to the benefited estate.”

Although the new definition might appear more obtuse than the previous list-based definition, it could provide greater flexibility in seeking a claim for reimbursement, provided the parties and their attorneys have a clear understanding of the new law and its terms.

The law also creates two new legal terms that did not previously exist: the “conferring estate” and the “benefited estate.” Essentially, the conferring estate confers the benefit (loans money, builds the house, puts in a swimming pool…), and the “benefited estate” receives the benefit (owns the land with increased value or less debt…).

To prove a claim for reimbursement under the new law, the party seeking reimbursement will have to prove the following:

  • One or both parties used assets of one marital estate to benefit another marital estate
  • The value of the benefit
  • The benefited estate would be unjustly enriched if not ordered to reimburse the conferring estate

The law goes into further detail about what it means for the property of one marital estate to confer a benefit on another marital estate’s property. While we’ve attempted to explain the nuts and bolts of HB 1547 in simple terms, there is still plenty of highly technical language to deal with that goes into determining the value of any benefit claimed.

Talk to Your Lawyer About How the New Law Will Affect Your Divorce

HB 1547 goes into effect on September 1, 2023, and the discovery rules will be simpler for family law cases filed on or after that date. If you have been considering filing for divorce, it might be of benefit to wait until after September 1 to file. The new rules, however, are only one factor to consider when deciding whether and when to file for divorce. Talk to your family law attorney to help you make the decision that is best for you. In Houston and Harris County, call the Law Office of Maria Lowry at 713-850-8859 for practical advice and passionate representation.

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