Bradshaw v. Bradshaw, 16–0328

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Citation555 S.W.3d 539
Docket NumberNo. 16–0328,16–0328
Parties Amanda BRADSHAW, Petitioner, v. Barney Samuel BRADSHAW, Respondent
Decision Date29 June 2018

555 S.W.3d 539

Amanda BRADSHAW, Petitioner,
Barney Samuel BRADSHAW, Respondent

No. 16–0328

Supreme Court of Texas.

Argued February 28, 2018
Opinion delivered: June 29, 2018

Nicholas B. Bacarisse, Rachel A. Ekery, for Barney Samuel Bradshaw.

Barney Samuel Bradshaw, pro se.

Ebb B. Mobley III, for Amanda Bradshaw.

Chief Justice Hecht announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which Justice Brown and Justice Blacklock joined.

While married to Amanda Bradshaw, Barney Samuel Bradshaw was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison for the continuous sexual abuse1 of Amanda's daughter, who was younger than 14 years old at the time of the offense.2 In the couple's divorce, the trial court divided their community home 80% to Amanda and 20% to Barney. The court of appeals affirmed.3 Amanda contends that the division was not just and right and that she should have been awarded 100% of the home because of his criminal abuse of the family.4 We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case to the trial court to reconsider the division of the community estate.


Amanda and Barney married in November 2010 and lived together in a home Amanda owned before the marriage, together with Amanda's 2 young daughters, S.S. and A.G., and A.G.'s sister, K.M. In February 2012, the home was destroyed by fire. Using insurance proceeds, Amanda paid off the mortgage, sold the property, and bought a new home for the family in June 2012.

That summer, Barney, then 34, began sexually abusing Amanda's 13–year–old daughter, S.S. Barney was accused of requiring S.S. to perform various sex acts with him for more than a year, often daily, sometimes weekly, stopping for a while, then resuming. Barney had also sexually abused A.G., then 15, who knew he was abusing S.S. When K.M., then 16 or 17, told A.G. that Barney had abused her, A.G. said that she and S.S. had both had "sexual problems" with Barney.5 In August 2013, S.S., A.G., and K.M. were visiting their aunt for a few days when they began to talk with each other about their shared nightmare. "[I]n the midst of great angst and emotion", with the girls "crying hysterically," A.G. told the aunt, "[Bradshaw has] been messing with us, and we can't take anymore, and [S.S.] has been getting

555 S.W.3d 542

the brunt of it."6 "[We want] ‘this to stop.’ "7 The aunt called the police.8

Barney was charged with continuous sexual abuse of a young child, S.S., who was at the time of the offense younger than 14 years old.9 The 3 girls all testified at the trial, as well as a friend of theirs, B.P., whom Barney had also sexually assaulted. All the abuse occurred in the Bradshaw home, the yard, the bathroom, and Barney's bedroom. Barney was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison without parole.

Meanwhile, Amanda had filed for divorce. At the hearing, she testified only very briefly, and Barney, in jail awaiting trial, was not allowed to testify. The court awarded Amanda all of the community estate10 and the home as her separate property. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the evidence did not support either the award of all the community property to Amanda or the characterization of the home as her separate property.11

On remand, Amanda presented additional evidence. She testified that Barney had physically abused her on multiple occasions, and S.S. and A.G. testified that Barney had sexually abused them repeatedly. Barney testified by telephone from prison. He claimed an interest in the fire insurance proceeds and in the home, asserting that he had made extensive repairs to it. He denied all the allegations of abuse, contending that they had been concocted to deprive him of an interest in the home. While the case was pending in the trial court, Barney's conviction was affirmed on appeal.12

Between the divorce case and the criminal case, 5 different women testified under oath to Barney's physical and sexual abuse. For some, the abuse continued for more than a year. Nearly all of the abuse occurred at the Bradshaw home during Barney and Amanda's 3–year marriage. The trial court found that the home was community property and awarded 80% of it to Amanda and 20% to Barney, based on "fault in the breakup of the marriage". The court awarded the rest of the community property to the party in possession.

Amanda appealed, arguing that she should have been awarded 100% of the home and that anything less was not "just and right". The court of appeals affirmed the property division, noting 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.’ "13

We granted Amanda's petition for review.14

555 S.W.3d 543


The division of a community estate in divorce must be "just and right, having due regard for the rights of each party and any children of the marriage."15 "Just" and "right" are broad terms. Black's Law Dictionary defines "just" as "[l]egally right; lawful; equitable",16 and "right" as "[t]hat which is proper under law, morality, or ethics".17 And "due regard" simply means the "[a]ttention, care, or consideration"18 that is "[j]ust, proper, regular, and reasonable".19 A trial court should consider many factors, including "the spouses' capacities and abilities ... and the nature of the property."20 The court may consider the "fault in breaking up the marriage", though the community-property division "should not be a punishment for the spouse at fault."21 In the end, "the court is to do complete equity as between the husband and wife and the children, having due regard to all obligations of the spouses and to the probable future necessities of all concerned."22

Because the standards for dividing a community estate involve the exercise of sound judgment, a trial court must be accorded much discretion in its decision.23 The division "should be corrected on appeal only where an abuse of discretion is shown in that the disposition made of some property is manifestly unjust and unfair."24 The appellate court cannot merely reweigh the evidence. Rather, "[a] determination of whether the property division decreed in a divorce constitutes an abuse of discretion presents a legal rather than a factual question for appellate review."25 And in deciding that legal question, the trial court is entitled to no deference. "[A] trial court has no discretion in determining what the law is or applying the law to the facts, even when the law is unsettled."26

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,"

555 S.W.3d 544

as the court of appeals worried.27 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 sufficient").28 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.

We have little difficulty answering no. As broad as the terms "just" and "right" are, they are not meaningless. They express values fundamental to our society, values we hold precious. Our society is diverse, and perceptions of what is "just" and "right" can differ with perspective. But 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. Such an award was thus an abuse of discretion.

Barney argues that the award is justified because Amanda took $5,000 from his disability benefits account after filing for divorce, he worked on the home and helped furnish it, Amanda offered no evidence that his criminal conviction affected her financially, and awarding her 100% of the home could be considered punitive. These arguments might be relevant to whether this is an appropriate uneven distribution for fault in the breakup of the marriage. But they miss the point: Barney should not be awarded an interest in the home he was convicted of using to sexually assault his stepdaughter. Barney insists that the allegations against him are untrue, and that the award of 20% of the home was "a hedge against any residual doubt" the trial court may have had that he is guilty as charged. But the evidence against him in the criminal trial was overwhelming, the sentence was severe, and his conviction has been affirmed on appeal. Barney argues...

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