Court: Wife Who Leaves Abusive Husband Don't Give Up Rights to Family Home

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A state appeals court in San Antonio has ruled that if a wife leaves her husband due to domestic abuse, that does not constitute 'abandonment' of the property under the state's community property laws, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

The opinion, written by Justice Karen Angelini of the Fourth Texas Court of Appeals, says Diane Marie Navarro did not give up her rights to the homestead under state law when she 'left behind all of her belongings' in response to serious abuse by her husband, Jesus N. Navarro III.

In her opinion, Angelini wrote: "The evidence shows appellee left the homestead about two years before her husband died.  She testified she left only because her husband ran her out and he was abusive.  She left all of her belongings at the house.  Despite her allegations of abuse against her husband, appellee testified the  couple  remained  in  contact,  they  did  not  divorce,  and  she  hoped  they  would  eventually  reconcile.    Appellee testified she always intended to return to the homestead."

Navarro's children argued that by leaving the home, Mrs. Navarro had abandoned her rights to the homestead under the state's Constitution, which allows a spouse the right to the property after the death of a husband or wife:

"On the death of the husband or wife, or both, the homestead shall descend and vest in like manner as other real property of the deceased, and shall be governed by the same laws of descent and distribution, but it shall not be partitioned among the heirs of the deceased during the lifetime of the surviving husband or wife, or so long as the survivor may elect to use or occupy the same as a homestead, or so long as the guardian of the minor children of the deceased may be permitted, under the order of the proper court having the jurisdiction, to use and occupy the same."

Mrs. Navarro said the decision is critical, because battered women have to realize that they have the right to seek safety away from the home without being punished by loss of the home which is rightfully theirs.

"Now Ms. Navarro can live for as long as she wants in the home that she shared with her husband," said attorney Patricia Reyna, who represented her through Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. "The case has mportant, broader implications.  Abused women frequently have to leave their homes to be safe from their abusers, and this often leads to allegations of abandonment.  In this case, the court did not allow an abused woman to be penalized because she had to seek refuge."

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