Leaving Abusive Husband Is Not Abandonment

June 21, 2017

Nancy Nusser, 512 374 2764 or 410 934 9588; nnusser@trla.org

Appeals Court Agrees Leaving Abusive Husband Is Not “Abandonment”
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Client Wins Right to Stay in Her Home

June 15, 2017 SAN ANTONIO, Texas – A Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) client, who had separated from her abusive husband before his death, last week won the right to stay in the home that they shared for years. The 4th Court of Appeals in Bexar County last week ruled with TRLA attorney Patricia M. Reyna, who argued that San Antonio resident Diane Marie Navarro’s decision to live apart from her abusive husband was not “abandonment” and that she is entitled, therefore, to return to their homestead.

“Now Ms. Navarro can live for as long as she wants in the home that she shared with her husband,” said Ms. Reyna. “The case has important, 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 Fourth Court of Appeals did not allow an abused woman to be penalized because she had to seek refuge.”

“I’m so relieved that I’ll be able to stay in my home, “Ms. Navarro said. She added, “It’s important that the story of my case gets out so that other women in my situation see that they have rights.”

Ms. Navarro had lived in the home for years with her husband, Jesus Navarro III, who had inherited it from his father. In 2013, Ms. Navarro said she was forced to leave her home and husband because “he was very abusive and ran her out of the house.”

She lived apart from him until his death in 2015.  Subsequently, Ms. Navarro applied in probate court to have the house and “certain exempt property” set aside to her. Under the Texas Constitution, husbands and wives are allowed to exercise their homestead rights as the surviving spouses for as long as they want.

But after Mr. Navarro’s death, his children refused to allow her to remain in the home.  At trial in San Antonio probate court in January 2016, the independent executor’s attorney argued that Ms. Navarro had abandoned the home and was not entitled to stay in it. Ms. Reyna argued that the client’s decision to live apart did not constitute abandonment because her husband’s abuse forced her out. Ms. Navarro testified that during the 21 years of her marriage, she often had to take shelter with family members. She said that she always planned to return home as “soon as things would work out between me and my husband because he was very abusive…”

The Fourth Court of Appeal’s June 7 ruling written by Judge Angelini affirmed the trial court decision.

For interviews with either Ms. Reyna or Ms. Navarro, please contact Nancy Nusser, nnusser@trla; 410 934 9588 or 512 374 2764.

Established in 1970, TRLA is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to about 25,000 low-income people in more than 68 Texas counties. TRLA’s mission is to promote dignity, self-sufficiency, safety, and access to justice for low-income Texans.