Know Your Rights: House remains separate property after marriage

By Richard Alderman
Aug. 31, 2013 at 3:31 a.m.

I own a house. If I marry, I believe that my home is still mine in case of a divorce. Is that true?

Your understanding of the law is correct. In Texas, property is considered "separate" or "community." Separate property is owned solely by one spouse, while community property is owned jointly. If there is a divorce, the court will divide the community property between the spouses, but separate property goes to the spouse who owns it.

All property acquired after a marriage is considered community property. Property owned before marriage, such as a house, remains the property of the spouse who owns it. In other words, unless you wanted to give your spouse an interest in your house, it will remain your separate property and would not be divided if there were a divorce.

I moved into a complex and was shown a model unit. Much to my surprise and disappointment, my unit is nothing like the model. What are my rights?

Texas has a consumer protection law called the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Under this law, a person or business is responsible if it makes any misrepresentations about what is being sold or rented. If someone violates this law, he may be liable for three times your damages plus attorneys' fees.

In most cases, a misrepresentation takes the form of an oral or written statement about the goods. For example, it is a misrepresentation to say, "The apartment has new carpet," when it does not. But a misrepresentation does not have to be expressed in words.

A misrepresentation also can arise in other ways such as showing someone a model apartment and leading him or her to believe his or her apartment will look substantially the same as the model.

In my opinion, if the apartment you were rented is not substantially the same as the model you were shown, the landlord has violated the DTPA. I suggest you let him know you know your rights and ask for a new unit, repairs to your current unit or the right to terminate your lease.

I own a timeshare in another state. I can no longer afford the payments and want to get rid of it.

The company will not take it back and says I have to continue to pay or they will sue me. Can I force them to take it back? A company contacted me and told me that for $3,000 they would find a technicality and get me out of the contract.

As you are discovering, it is very difficult to get out of an obligation for a timeshare.

Unlike personal property, you cannot just throw away real estate or abandon it.

As long as you own it, you have an obligation to pay.

As a first step, you may want to let the company know you are going to stop paying and ask if it will agree to let you out for a small fee. You may be able to negotiate your release. If you do, be sure to get any agreement in writing. There also are companies that sell timeshares.

I actually sold a timeshare about three years ago. I would not, however, pay anyone in advance to sell or get out of a timeshare. Finally, look at the debt collection section on my website below to see what might happen if the company does try to collect. In many cases, there is not much a creditor can take to collect even if it sues. That is why the company may settle the matter with you once you let it know you are no longer able to pay.

I was sexually assaulted in the laundry room of my apartment. I am very scared to live there and asked the landlord if I could terminate my lease. He said if I left early, I would be breaking the lease and would continue to owe rent. Do I have the right to leave?

As far as the law is concerned, you generally do not have the right to terminate your lease simply because you do not want to live there.

But since 2010, the law has been changed to allow a tenant who is the victim of a sexual assault to terminate the lease with no further liability. I suggest you let the landlord know you know the law and you are terminating your lease.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, 77204-6391. He also maintains a website at



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