Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Texas Supreme Court
Tedder v. Gardner Aldrich, LLP
Husband sued Wife for divorce and custody of their children. Wife hired Law Firm to represent her in the proceedings. After the jury verdict, Law Firm sued both Wife and Husband for its fees. After a hearing, Husband and Wife agreed that the final decree would award Law Firm attorney fees against Wife only and would not award Wife attorney fees against Husband. The trial court rendered judgment in accordance with their agreement. Wife subsequently sought the protection of bankruptcy and was discharged. Law Firm appealed. The court of appeals rendered judgment for Law Firm against Husband and Wife jointly and severally, holding that Husband was liable for Wife's Legal fees because (1) the obligation was a "community debt," and (2) the legal fees were "necessaries" for which Husband was liable to the firm. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Husband was not liable to pay Law Firm for legal services rendered to Wife unless those services were necessaries; and (2) legal services provided to one spouse in a divorce proceeding are not necessaries for which the other spouse is statutorily liable to pay the attorney. View "Tedder v. Gardner Aldrich, LLP" on Justia Law
Granado v. Meza
Two years after their child was born, Mother obtained a default judgment establishing Father's paternity and ordering child support to be paid until the child reached the age of eighteen. Father made child-support payments after receiving notices from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). When the child was six years old, the OAG erroneously closed Father's case, and Father stopped making payments. Mother subsequently sought to enforce the order, and Father sought a determination of arrearages. The trial court ultimately found Father owed only $500 in arrearages. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that no evidence existed to support the trial court's specific finding of $500 in arrearages, as an OAG clerical error served as a basis for modifying the child-support obligation. Remanded. View "Granado v. Meza" on Justia Law
In re Office of Attorney Gen.
Father was ordered to pay child support each month to Mother. Father failed to make payments for several months, resulting in an arrearage of thousands of dollars. The Tarrant County Domestic Relations Office filed a motion to enforce the support order, asserting six counts of contempt. Before a hearing was held, Father paid the entire arrearage but then accumulated a new arrearage of an even greater amount. The trial court held Father in contempt for the failures to make timely child support payments and sentenced him to serve 174 days in jail. The court of appeals ordered the trial court to vacate its contempt order, holding that Defendant could invoke Tex. Fam. Code 157.162(d) at the hearing, despite the outstanding arrearage, because he had become "current" on the missed payments that were pled in the motion. The Supreme Court instructed the appellate court to vacate its judgment, thus reinstating the trial court's order, holding that, pursuant to section 157.162(d), an obligor must be current on court-ordered child support payments due at the time of the enforcement hearing, regardless of whether those payments have been pled in the motion for enforcement, in order to avoid a finding of contempt. View "In re Office of Attorney Gen." on Justia Law
In re J.M.
After a trial, the trial court ordered the termination of Mother's parental rights to her two children. Before the trial court signed the termination order, Mother's trial counsel filed a "motion for a new trial or, in the alternative, notice of appeal." Two days later, Mother's trial counsel filed a motion to withdraw. Approximately a month later, the trial court signed the termination order, granted the motion to withdraw, and appointed appellate counsel. The court of appeals dismissed the motion for a new trial or notice of appeal for want of jurisdiction, holding that Mother's combined filing was not a bona fide attempt to invoke its appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the present filing expressed an intent to appeal to the court of appeals and was partially entitled a notice of appeal, which constituted a bona fide attempt to invoke appellate jurisdiction upon its filing with the trial court clerk. Remanded. View "In re J.M." on Justia Law
In re Dean
After Mother became pregnant with Father's child, Mother moved from Texas to New Mexico, where she lived with Child since his birth. Father filed for divorce and subsequently filed a petition requesting shared custody and seeking Mother's compelled return to Texas with Child. Mother petitioned a New Mexico court to adjudicate custody, asserting that court had jurisdiction because New Mexico was Child's home state. The New Mexico court dismissed Mother's case, concluding that Texas had jurisdiction over the proceedings because Father filed his divorce petition in Texas first. After unsuccessfully seeking mandamus relief from the court of appeals in the Texas case, Mother petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus. The Court conditionally granted relief, holding that because New Mexico, not Texas, was child's home state under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and because there were no other exclusive, continuing jurisdictional bases under the Act, the Texas court improperly assumed jurisdiction. View "In re Dean" on Justia Law
In re E.N.C.
A court cannot terminate a person's rights unless the State proves by clear and convincing evidence that the parent engaged in certain proscribed conduct, as specified in the Family Code, and that termination is in the best interest of the children. In this case, an immigrant convicted in another state of unlawful conduct with a minor and given a probated sentence years before his children were born was later deported to Mexico. The State relied on these facts in petitioning to terminate this father's parental rights, yet put on no evidence concerning the offense committed years earlier, nor the circumstances of his deportation. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment in part, holding that the evidence was legally insufficient to support termination of this father's parental rights under these facts. Remanded. View "In re E.N.C." on Justia Law
Shook v. Gray
G.W., David Gray and Lucy Wood's nine-year-old daughter, had lived with her maternal grandmother, Ann Shook, for her entire life. The trial court appointed Shook as G.W.'s sole managing conservator and named Gray and Wood as G.W.'s possessory conservators. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in naming Shook, a nonparent, as G.W.'s sole managing conservator because Shook failed to present any evidence that could overcome the presumption that a parent should be named as managing conservator. The court then remanded the case to the trial court to determine the custody and visitation rights as between Gray and Wood only. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' judgment remanding the case but reversed to the extent the judgment limited the trial court's consideration of the role Shook should play in G.W.'s life, whether as conservator or a person with defined access rights. View "Shook v. Gray" on Justia Law
In re E.R.
Several months after removing Mother's four children from her home and becoming their temporary managing conservator, the Department of Family Protective Services petitioned the trial court to terminate Mother's parental rights. After an unsuccessful attempt at personal service, the Department decided to serve Mother by publication, a decision the trial court authorized. After a final hearing at which Mother did not appear, the trial court terminated Mother's parental rights to her children. Mother moved for a new trial within two years of the judgment. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed, holding that the motion was untimely filed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that under the circumstances of this case, the substituted service was poor, hopeless, and unjustifiable. Remanded to the trial court to determine whether Mother unreasonably failed to act after knowing that a final judgment had taken away her children, and if so, whether granting relief would impair another person's substantial interest in reliance on that judgment. View "In re E.R." on Justia Law
Milner v. Milner
This case involved a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) from a divorce. At issue was whether the court of appeals erred in setting aside the underlying MSA, which the trial court purported to follow in its divorce decree. The court did not agree with the court of appeals that the MSA unambiguously required wife's substitution as a limited partner nor did it agree that the MSA should be set aside merely because the parties interpret their agreement differently. The court agreed with the decision to remand, however, because the MSA's ambiguity must be resolved before an agreed judgment could be rendered. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.
In re Jeffrey Cook
This case stemmed from a divorce action between relator and his wife. The relator asked the court to decide whether a trial court abused its discretion when it issued an order granting a motion for new trial "based on all grounds in the motion." The court held that because the successor trial court judge in this case did not state sufficient reasons for his ruling, contrary to the court's holding in In re Columbia, the court conditionally granted relief.