The Matrimonial Property Act equalized spousal rights, liabilities, responsibilities, including management and control of community property, child custody, and financial responsibilities to the family. Often called the Marital Property Act of 1967, the bill was part of a larger set of reforms proposed initially by the State Bar of Texas as an alternative to passing the Equal Rights Amendment to the Texas Constitution (TERA).
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the State Bar officially opposed the TERA, in part, because they argued that it would create a domino effect of “havoc and uncertainty” with other laws without statutory reform. To modernize Texas’s laws regarding families and meet demands for spousal equality, the State Bar tasked their Family Law Section team with drafting the Matrimonial Property Act of 1967 and other legislation that revised and modernized laws regarding divorce, marriage, annulment, guardianship and adoption, custody, paternity, juvenile delinquency, and the family court system (see WOMEN AND THE LAW). By the mid-1970s the committee created the first modern comprehensive unified Family Code in the world. Louise B. Raggio chaired the drafting committee, whose members included attorneys W. Dewey Lawrence, Edwin Nesbitt, Richard H. Cory, William Carssow, and law professors Joseph W. McKnight, Eugene L. Smith, William O. Huie, William Fritz, Angus McSwain, and Loy Simpkins.
In January 1967 the bill was introduced in the Texas House of Representatives as House Bill 8 by state legislators Gene Fondren of Taylor, Charles H. Jungmichel of La Grange, and Richard H. Cory of Victoria, who also served on the drafting committee. The compatible Senate Bill 33 was introduced by legislator James Powell Word of Meridian and Dorsey B. Hardeman of San Angelo. Both bills were sent to the judiciary committees of their respective legislative branch.
Opponents to the bill included supporters of the TERA, notably lead by Hermine D. Tobolowsky. During public hearings before the House Judiciary Committee, Tobolowsky pointed out weaknesses in the bill that undermined equality for married women and stressed the need for certain changes including “joint control and liability” of community property by both spouses and further homestead protections. The House Judiciary Committee followed her suggested changes to draft amendments to the Senate bill. These amendments passed and strengthened the equality provisions of the final bill.
The Matrimonial Property Act of 1967 on final passage gave each spouse control over any community property that they would have owned as a single person, including their personal earnings and revenues from their separate property. Prior to this, any purchases made by a married woman with revenue from her separate property became community property, which was controlled by the husband. The law overwhelmingly benefited both spouses in a modernizing world in which both partners entered a marriage with their own businesses and properties.
The act also gave married women the ability to enter into contractual agreements or sell their community property without the approval and signature of their husband and greater say in joint decisions about the couple’s homestead. The bill’s Article 4618, an amendment to Texas’s homestead law, made sure that the homestead, even if separate property, could not be sold without the joint approval of both spouses. In addition, the bill allowed a spouse to petition for sole control over community property if the other spouse disappeared or permanently abandoned or separated from their spouse. The bill equalized spousal support and spousal responsibility in cases of disability, divorce, and child custody.