The mere allegation of a sex crime against a child carries immediate and lasting consequences:
- Possible civil commitment
- Post-imprisonment supervision
- Sex offender registration
These consequences do not include probable divorce, lost or extremely restricted child visitation rights, loss of career, professional employment opportunities, loss of friends and contact with extended family members, and a “sex offender” stigma that will never subside. These personal consequences also taint those individuals who are investigated, never charged, or whose cases are dismissed or exonerated before a jury.
Conviction of Sex Abuse of Child Leads to Loss of Community Property
This past June the Texas Supreme Court in Bradshaw v. Bradshaw added yet another significant consequence to a child sex crime conviction.
Barney and Amanda Bradshaw were married in November 2010. They live in a home that Amanda owned before the couple married. Amanda had three young daughters. The couple’s home was destroyed by fire shortly after their marriage. From the insurance proceeds on the fire-destroyed home and the sale of the land upon which it sat, Amanda paid off the mortgage on that home and purchased a new home in 2012.
It was alleged, during the summer of 2012, Barney began sexually abusing Amanda’s three teenage daughters. The abuse lasted until August 2013 when the girls began talking to each other and shared their sexual abuse experiences. Collectively, they reported the sexual abuse to an aunt. The aunt called the police. Barney was arrested, tried, convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child and sentenced to 60 years in a state prison without the benefit of parole.
Divorce Pending Criminal Trial
While Barney was in jail awaiting trial, Amanda filed for a divorce. A local civil court granted the divorce. Barney was not allowed to testify at the divorce proceedings. The court decreed all the community property to Amanda and awarded her the home as “separate property.”
Barney appealed the divorce judgment to the Sixth District Court of Appeals. Finding that the evidence in the record did not support the district court’s judgment, the appeals court remanded the case back to the local court for additional proceedings. At the second divorce hearing Amanda offered additional evidence about Barney’s sexual abuse of her daughters. Testifying via a jail telephone, Barney told the divorce judge that he had an interest in the fire insurance and that he had made extensive repairs to the house purchased after the fire. Barney testified the sex abuse allegations had been concocted to deprive him of his interest in the shared home.
More Allegations of Sexual Abuse Surface
While the divorce case was pending in the district court, Barney’s sex offense conviction was upheld on appeal. During the period that Barney’s appeal was pending, five different women testified that they had been sexually abused at the Bradshaw home during the couple’s three-year marriage.
Against this factual backdrop, the divorce court nonetheless ruled that the home was community property and awarded Amanda an 80% interest and Barney a 20% interest in the home. The court said Barney was only entitled to the lesser interest in the property because he was at “fault in the breakup of the marriage.”
Wife Claims 100% of Community Property Home
This time Amanda appealed to the Sixth District Court of Appeals, arguing that she was entitled to 100% percent of the home and anything less was not “just and right.”
In February 2016, the appeals court rejected Amanda’s 100% home interest claim, finding that “although fault may be considered in making a disproportionate distribution of community property, ‘[t]he division should not be a punishment for the spouse at fault.’”
Amanda sought, and was granted, review by the Texas Supreme Court. At the outset the court agreed with Texas divorce law that the division of community property must be “just and right, having due regard for the rights of each party and any children of the marriage.” The state’s highest court framed the issue before it in the Bradshaw case in the following language:
“Thus, the issue before us is this: In the circumstances presented, can it be just and right, as a matter of law, in dividing a community estate in divorce, to award an interest in the family home to a spouse convicted of using the home to sexually abuse his stepdaughter? The issue is not whether Barney’s conviction for sexual abuse of his stepdaughter contributed to the breakup of his marriage and for that reason could be considered in dividing the community estate. The trial court appears to have done just that. Nor is the issue whether awarding Amanda 100% of the home ‘could operate to punish Barney for his fault in the dissolution of the marriage’ as the court of appeals worried. It can certainly be argued that Barney’s punishment was his 60-year prison sentence, not the unequal division of the home (though as JUSTICE BOYD observes, ‘[a] sixty-year prison sentence hardly seems suffice.’). Wholly apart from whether Barney’s crime contributed to the breakup of the marriage, the question is whether it can be just and right to award him an interest in the home he repeatedly used to sexually abuse multiple victims, including his stepdaughters.”
Court Denies Convict Any Interest in Home
The court said it had “little difficulty” finding that it was “just and right” to deny Barney any interest in the home and give Amanda the entire 100% interest in it. The court specifically said “we think it virtually beyond argument that awarding Barney an interest in the very home he used to sexually abuse his stepdaughter, for which he was convicted, and others is unjust and wrong, not as a matter of fact, but as a matter of law.”
The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the district court for reconsideration of the division of the community property estate (whether Amanda took $5,000 from Barney’s disability account), but the court was firm that Barney had no community property interest in the home.
Court Limits Ruling to Facts of Case
The court, however, said it wanted to make clear that its decision was limited—that it applied to the “narrow circumstances” as those in Barney Bradshaw’s case: a spouse or partner using community property to sexually abuse a child loses interest in that property. The court noted that its ruling probably would not apply to a “single incident, weak evidence, enormous home, no criminal conviction.” In fact, the court said “a division of community property can be just and right despite violence directed against the family.”
The takeaway from the Bradshaw decision is this: an individual convicted of sexually abusing children in his home faces losing any community property interest in that home.