INTERESTING CASES: October 4, 2017
Sallee S. Smyth
- In re Yancey, 2017 Tex. App. LEXIS 8707 (Tex. App. – Tyler, September 13, 2017, orig. proceeding) (mem. opinion) (Cause No. 12-17-00235-CV)
M and D, the parents of three children, divorced in 2012 in Rusk County. In a 2014 modification order, M was named primary parent of two children and H was named primary parent of one. In 2017 the OAG filed suit to modify support and confirm arrearages. Within its original pleadings the OAG asserted that M and the two children within her primary care had moved and resided in Smith County for a period of more than 6 month, facts confirmed in an affidavit filed by M. F filed a controverting affidavit claiming that the child in his care residence in Rusk County. F also filed a counter petition for modification. F testified at the hearing as to the children’s residences in both Smith and Rusk counties but opposed transfer because of the inconvenience, urging the court to deny the transfer and maintain the suit in the county where it had originated. M argued for transfer and requested the court to sever as to the two children in her care and transfer. The trial court denied transfer. M thereafter filed her own motion to transfer with F challenged but this motion was never ruled upon. M sought mandamus relief. The COA found M’s separate motion untimely but found that the OAG had timely sought transfer at the time suit was filed and because M was a party to the proceeding and her rights were affected by the trial court’s ruling, M had the right to challenge that ruling by mandamus. The COA then noted the mandatory transfer statutes which address jurisdiction and venue over “the child,” determining that the legislature intended the statutes to be applied on a per child basis such that if only one of the children subject to a suit fell under a mandatory venue, then the court was nevertheless required to transfer venue as to that one child. The COA found that nothing in the statute requires the court to transfer venue of the matter as to all children, but only as to those who have lived in a different county for more than six months. Determining the trial court abused its discretion to grant the mandatory transfer, mandamus was granted.
- Lynch v. Lynch, 2017 Tex. App. LEXIS 8744 (Tex. App. – Houston [1st Dist.] September 14, 2017) (Cause No. 01-16-00573-CV)
H and W married in 1988 and had no children of their own. The parties separated in 2015 and H moved out of the residence into his own apartment. In early 2016 W filed for divorce on the basis of adultery and cruel treatment, requested a disproportionate division and sought temporary orders. H was served by a private process server but thereafter did not appear for the TO hearing. W put on evidence supporting her request for temporary spousal support and use of property and the trial court granted that relief. Several months later W filed a motion for enforcement and H was again served with the motion by private process server but did not appear for the enforcement hearing. Trial took place in April and H did not appear, never having filed an answer in the suit. At trial W put on evidence of the parties’ estate through her inventory and appraisement which claimed known community property valued at approximately $3.3 million, identifying several financial and retirement accounts with values unknown. W further claimed that H owed her $111K based on his non-compliance with the temporary orders obligations for payment of support and various other tax and credit card liabilities that he was ordered to pay but which she had to cover. W testified that H had physically abused her frequently over the course of the marriage and offered evidence of several physical injuries she had suffered. She further testified to her discovery that H was an active member of a dating site called “Seeking Arrangements” which involved H meeting and dating women under various financial arrangements (i.e. sugar daddy). W obtained H’s profile from the dating site in which he claimed his net worth to be $5million. W requested the court to order a disproportionate division awarding H one bank account of unknown value, two cars worth $30K and the liabilities owing to her of $111K, with the balance of the estate being awarded to W (resulting in the award of 100% of the known community estate value to W and a negative $81K to H). W also asked that H be obligated to pay FIT for 2016 and appellate fees. The trial court signed a final decree in accordance with W’s testimony and further included general language obligating the parties to indemnify the other in the event of future litigation brought by third parties. H filed a motion to set aside the default judgment and for new trial, alleging under the Craddock standards that his failure to answer was due to mistake and not intentional or due to conscious indifference. At the evidentiary hearing on H’s MNT he testified that he had previously been involved in litigation in LA and that he had received “informal” service but thereafter “formal” service by a uniformed officer. H claimed that he believed he had only been “informally notified” of the divorce proceedings because the private process servers who delivered the petition and enforcement citations were not dressed in uniform and did not require him to sign anything. He said he knew the papers involved a divorce and he acknowledged doing a google search the W’s attorney to see that she was with a reputable firm. He also testified that he had received an email from the attorney (which include a copy of the temporary orders) but claimed he had never opened it. He admitted that he did not read the first page of the citation warning against a default because he thought it was just a cover page and he skipped straight to the petition itself. He claimed his actions were a mistake of law and that the decree should be set aside. One of the process servers testified that she clearly identified herself and her purpose. The trial court ultimately denied the post-judgment motion and H appealed. The COA initially addressed H’s challenge to the trial court’s failure to grant his MNT, determining that based on all the evidence the trial court have reasonably determined that H knew he had been served with divorce papers but did not care to act upon it, determining he acted with conscious indifference and there was no error in denying a new trial. Regarding the property division, the COA notes that H’s challenge is limited to a very brief and narrow argument which asserts that under any circumstance a division of property which awards 100% to one spouse and a negative value to the other cannot be fair and equitable and must be reversed. H never argues that the evidence in the record does not support such a division, but instead argues solely that the amount of the award intrinsically makes it manifestly unjust requiring reversal. The COA cites to several other decisions affirming 100% awards based on evidence of fault and other issues, determining that H did not meet his burden to demonstrate error in the division based on the record. The COA also overruled H’s issue challenging the allocation of prior FIT liability to him but the COA noted that this was a community obligation which the trial court had authority to assess, noting that W did not work and that H was the sole wage earning triggering those tax obligations. H further challenged the orders which effectively partitioned the parties income for 2016 as separate property for tax filing purposes, but the COA determined that even if such mischaracterization was error, H failed to show how this characterization for the 4 months prior to divorce created any harm to him. The COA addressed H’s challenge to the broad, general “indemnification” language included within the decree. (The language discussed in the opinion very clearly resembles that contained in the SBOT Family Law Practice manual.) The COA notes that there is indemnification language included in the specific terms which allocate community debts between the parties, but the separate and generalized indemnification language involves actions which could be brought by third parties and was not relief that W pled for or put on evidence to support. Finding that the judgment must be supported by pleadings the COA modified the decree to remove this language. Finally the COA agreed with H that W put on no evidence of appellate fees as awarded and reversed this provision and remanded it for further hearing. The COA affirmed the balance of the judgment. COMMENT: Trial counsel for W emailed me shortly after this decision was issued, noting with significance the H’s social media posting on the dating website claiming his worth to $5million even though W could only identify $3.3 million. To the extent the W had identified several financial accounts with unknown values, one of which was awarded to H, it is possible the trial court inferred that H had other assets unknown to W. In any event, this case surely suggests that when presenting a default, there is nothing that should really stop you from putting on all the evidence you can and requesting the most that you think you can get away with, even if that is 100%, because it just might get affirmed!
- Waring v. Waring, 2017 Tex. App. LEXIS 8948 (Tex. App. – Beaumont September 21, 2017) (mem. opinion) (Cause No. 09-16-00030-CV)
H and W married in 2012. Almost a year before marriage, H purchased a tractor in his name and financed $26,000 of the purchase price over 5 years. The tractor was delivered to a farm owned by W’s father where the parties were remodeling a house where they would live. H paid all installments on the note both before and after the parties’ marriage. W filed for divorce in 2014 and both parties claimed separate property. The primary issued at trial involved characterization of the tractor, which W claimed H gave to her as a gift around Christmas of 2011 before they married and some portion of a bonus H received from his employer, a portion of which he claimed he earned prior to marriage. At trial W testified that H gave her the tractor around Christmas. W’s mother testified that Jack told her it was a Christmas gift for W which her mother thought was strange but that W would probably like because she liked to farm. A man hired to build fences on the property also testified that H had told him he purchased the tractor for W as a gift. H denied these claims stating he would never give W something so expensive prior to their marriage and that he had given her a ring and bracelet wrapped as a gift that Christmas. H also stated that he used the tractor on the property. H claimed that if it was found to be a gift, the gift failed because the property was encumbered and thus H had no right to gift of assign the property to W. H requested that if the tractor was found to be W’s s/p that the W should be awarded the balance of the debt and further W should be required to reimburse H for the amounts he had already paid on the note. As to his bonus, H provided his own calculation requesting that a portion of an employee bonus be characterized as s/p because he had worked for his employer for a period prior to marriage. The trial court characterized the tractor as W’s s/p and characterized the debt on the tractor as H’s s/p debt, awarding/allocating them to each respectively. The court characterized the bonus as community property and divided the parties’ estate. H appealed. The COA found that although there was conflicting evidence of H’s intent regarding the tractor, the court could have inferred that H intended a gift because he never used or possessed the tractor outside of W’s father’s farm and used it only to improve that property. The COA rejected H’s argument that the gift failed because the property was encumbered, noting that there was no evidence that H gave the gift with the intent that W assume the liability or that W agreed to assume it and that H had fully paid every instalment on the note at all times, indicating he never intended for W to make these payments. Further the COA rejected the argument of reimbursement finding that in considering the equitable nature of reimbursement, a gift from one marital estate to another is generally not a proper basis for reimbursement. As to H’s challenge regarding his bonus, the COA found that H offered no evidence (other than his own calculation) that the employer intended some portion of the bonus to compensate H for efforts prior to marriage and that absent such evidence the court was entitled to apply the c/p presumption. Judgment affirmed.
- In the Interest of R.L.R., 2017 Tex. App. LEXIS 8946 (Tex. App. – Beaumont September 21, 2017) (mem. opinion) (Cause No. 09-16-00449-CV)
H and W married in 2000 and had one child in 2007. Shortly after her birth, the couple divorced. They were named JMC with W having primary rights, H having an SPO and H paying $1200/month in c/s. In 2014 H filed a modification seeking additional periods of possession and termination of his c/s obligation. The reached agreements in mediation giving F the majority of time with the child during the school year and agreeing to split time in the summer. Issues regarding c/s and obligations for health insurance went to trial. The court considered that H’s expenses increased with his additional time and that he was paying for the child’s after school activities and expense for her to attend counseling. The court determined that if c/s was ordered, guidelines would require H to pay $1710 and W to pay $588. W requested the court to obligate H to pay the differential in these amounts as continued c/s to her. The trial court accepted the parties’ agreement on possession times and issued an order which did not obligate either parent to pay c/s to the other but providing that H would maintain the insurance. The court further removed W as primary parent with the right of domicile, ordering that neither parent would have the right but that H was considered the custodial parent with the majority of the time. W appealed. The COA considered the evidence that H had greater rights to possession of the child and thus much greater expenses based on the testimony and that it was reasonable to infer that W’s expenses would likewise decrease. Based on all the evidence considered the COA found that it was not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to reduce H’s c/s to zero and order that neither parent provide support to the other. Judgment affirmed.