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When do family law and criminal law issues overlap?

The typical case is when accusations of domestic violence occur at the end of a relationship. Lies and deceit during the divorce process can also be the basis for criminal charges. In one case, a husband's attempt to falsify the value of a retirement account resulted in criminal theft charges.

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Contributions made to retirement accounts (pensions, 401(k) accounts, IRAs or deferred compensation accounts) during a marriage are community property in Texas. Determining the value of accounts may be as easy as reviewing an annual statement. Other times a soon-to-be-ex lies about the value of a nest egg or hides an account to keep more for himself or herself.

Unraveling a tapestry of lies

In a highly contested divorce of a couple in their late-50s, the husband submitted documents to the family court showing his retirement account balance was about $750,000. His wife knew that could not be correct. She testified credibly that the account had at least $900,000. Psychological abuse was an alleged part of the marriage as well.

A prosecutor brought criminal charges related to theft and forgery against the husband. A jury found the husband guilty and his sentence included probation and a $30,000 fine.Another complicating factor occurred when he bought 14 pistols after the forgery charge. When weapons-related charges are added, they may even carry stiffer penalties than the original charges.

Not every fight over property leads to criminal charges

It's critical to a fair property settlement to know exactly how much is in retirement accounts. A few other common mistakes include:

  • You keep yours and I'll keep mine - this may be one way to diffuse an argument, but it may leave you vulnerable in the future, especially if you earned less.
  • Cashing out - Most Texas counties issue Temporary Restraining Orders that prohibit each spouse from withdrawing funds from retirement accounts during divorce. Disobey this order to pull out funds for a retainer and you could be held in contempt of court. Taking money out of these accounts after a divorce will also carry hefty tax consequences.
  • Forgetting the QDRO - A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is required to direct an administrator how to divide retirement benefits in the future.

Control over money is one of the top things couples fight over. If a spouse believes a relationship is heading in the wrong direction, he or she might start finding ways to shield/hide assets. During divorce, the conflict over property division can escalate further.

It's hard to know exactly how a spouse will react or act during a divorce, seek experienced legal counsel from the beginning. When allegations of criminal conduct (whether domestic violence, stalking or theft) come up, speak with an attorney who can explain how family court and criminal court cases overlap and affect each other.

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