Acceptance of Benefits Includes Debt Relief

The acceptance of benefits doctrine prevents a party from treating a judgment as both rights and wrong. In other words, if a party “has voluntarily accepted the benefits of a judgment, he cannot afterward prosecute an appeal therefrom.” Carle v. Carle, 149 Tex. 469, 234 S.W.2d 1002, 1004 (1950). This doctrine comes into play in divorce cases when a former spouse accepts some of what the divorce decree awards that spouse, but then complains about the rest of the decree on appeal. When the doctrine is successfully invoked, the appeal is dismissed.

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Acceptance of Benefits Exceptions

There are two exceptions to the acceptance of benefits doctrine. First, if the former spouse who accepted the benefits can establish that the acceptance of benefits was a result of financial duress or other economic circumstances, then the appeal can go forward. Second, if reversing the judgment on appeal could not possibly affect a person’s right to the benefits accepted, then the doctrine will not apply. The second situation comes about when the appellant accepts benefits from the judgment that will be due in any event but seeks further recovery.

Acceptance of Benefits by Debt Relief

Acceptance of benefits usually occurs when an ex-spouse accepts money or property from the other ex-spouse. But in Colburn v. Colburn, No. 14-13-00680-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] Nov. 6, 2014) (mem. op.), the Fourteenth Court of Appeals applied the acceptance of benefits doctrine to debt relief. The trial court awarded the ex-wife a house and ordered that she pay the debt on it. The ex-husband then deeded his ex-wife the property, reciting that the deed was in consideration of $10 and other good and valuable consideration, including the ex-wife’s assumption of the debt on the house. By accepting the trial court’s judgment that his ex-wife pay debt for which both parties were jointly and severally liable, the ex-husband accepted the benefits of the judgment. Appeal dismissed.

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