Divorce Decree Interpretation In Texas

In Wilde v. Murchie, the supreme court considered whether a divorce decree partitioned a community homestead. See Wilde v. Murchie, 949 S.W.2d 331, 332 (Tex. 1997) (per curiam). The court stated that an ambiguous decree (judgment) must be interpreted by "reviewing both the decree as a whole and the record" in order to carry out the property disposition correctly. Id. at 332. As with other judgments, courts should construe divorce decrees "as a whole toward the end of harmonizing and giving effect to all that is written." Id. at 333. Courts should give a fair reading to all of the provisions of the judgment instead of relying solely on the decretal words. See id. Although the divorce decree in Wilde did not expressly divest the wife of her interest in the community homestead, the decree liquidated her equity interest in the home and stipulated that the husband assumed the debts on the property; the supreme court concluded that the decree revealed the divorce court's decision that the husband take sole possession of the community home. See id. The record supported this conclusion; in the petition for divorce, the wife indicated that the husband could take possession of the house. See id. The actions of the parties after the divorce (his sole possession for twenty years, the collection of a monetary award instead of proceeds from a partition) support the construction intended by the trial court: the decree did not order a partition. See id.