The Acceptance-of-Benefits Doctrine Can Bar a Texas Family Law Appeal

The acceptance-of-benefits doctrine states that a party cannot treat a judgment as both right and wrong. In other words, an appellant cannot accept benefits under the judgment while simultaneously attacking the judgment. If an appellant accepts benefits, then the appellant is barred from questioning the judgment on appeal

The Beaumont Court of Appeals applied the acceptance-of-benefits doctrine in Tomsu v. Tomsu. The husband appealed a divorce decree. He raised six issues on appeal. Four of those issues complained about the division of the community estate. But after the trial court rendered judgment, the husband deposited $6,711 into an account that would have been community property. He also accepted a check from the wife for $37,000 pursuant to the divorce decree.

The Beaumont Court dismissed the community-property issues as moot because the husband accepted these funds. The Court did note that an except to the acceptance-of-benefits doctrine exists when an appellant's "economic circumstances made his acceptance an economic necessity." But the husband did not attempt to invoke this exception to the doctrine.

The remaining two issues - whether the trial court abused its discretion when it failed to award spousal support to the husband, and whether any evidence supported the trial court's award of appellate attorney's fees to the wife - were not affected by the acceptance-of-benefits doctrine because they did not concern the division of the community estate.

Tomsu reminds us that when considering an appeal, a party must be careful not to accept the benefits of the judgment unless the party has no choice because of economic necessity. Otherwise, the appeal could be barred.