Articles Posted in Family Law

by
In 2013, the Mayor of Houston directed that same-sex spouses of employees who have been legally married in another jurisdiction be afforded the same benefits as spouses of a heterosexual marriage. Plaintiffs, Houston taxpayers and voters, filed suit against the City and its Mayor challenging the Mayor’s directive authorizing expenditures and the City’s provision of benefits pursuant to that directive. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued that the Mayor’s directive authorizing the expenditures violated Texas’s and the City’s defense of marriage acts. The trial court granted a temporary injunction prohibiting the Mayor from furnishing benefits to persons who were married in other jurisdictions to City employees of the same sex. While Defendants’ interlocutory appeal was pending, the United States Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges, __ U.S. __ (2015) that states may not exclude same sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite sex couples. The court of appeals subsequently reversed the temporary injunction and remanded the case. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment, vacated the trial court’s orders and remanded, holding that the court’s opinion and judgment imposed greater restrictions on remand the Obergefell and this court’s precedent required. View "Pidgeon v. Turner" on Justia Law

by
At issue in this family law dispute was whether a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) entered into the parties after nearly two years of divorce proceedings partitioned a discretionary employee bonus Husband received nine months after the divorce decree was entered. Husband argued that the bonus constituted future income and earnings that were partitioned to him under the MSA. Wife argued that part of the bonus was earned during the marriage and constituted undivided community property. The trial court granted summary judgment for Husband. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the MSA partitioned the bonus, and therefore, the trial court properly granted summary judgment for Husband. View "Loya v. Loya" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
During their marriage, Respondent and Petitioner produced one child and a $30 million marital estate. During marriage-dissolution proceedings, the parties executed two agreements settling all issues. The trial court orally approved the settlement agreements and granted the divorce petitions, and more than one year passed before the trial court’s rulings were reduced to writing in a final divorce decree. Petitioner filed several post-judgment motions challenging the decree, arguing that the child support and child custody provisions in the final decree materially deviated from the parties’ agreement. The trial court substantially denied Petitioner relief. Petitioner appealed, challenging the property division and child welfare provisions of the divorce decree. Applying the estoppel-based acceptance-of-benefits doctrine, which preludes a litigant from challenging a judgment after voluntarily accepting the judgment’s benefits, the court of appeals dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the acceptance-of-benefits doctrine is a fact-dependent, estoppel-based doctrine focused on preventing unfair prejudice to the opposing party; and (2) the factors informing the equitable inquiry did not favor an estoppel in this case. View "Kramer v. Kastleman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
In 2001, Preston and Victoria Oschner divorced. The trial court ordered that Preston pay Victoria monthly child support. The child support order required Preston to make payments to his daughter’s school and, when she switched schools, to make payments through a registry. Preston, however, paid the new school directly and paid more than $20,000 above the total amount that the child-support order contemplated through the registry. Almost a decade later, Victoria brought a child-support enforcement action against Preston to recover the balance that Preston failed to pay through the registry. The trial court ruled in favor of Preston, concluding that the direct tuition payments satisfied the child-support obligation. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court was barred from considering Preston’s direct tuition payments when confirming the amount of arrearages. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a trial court in a child-support enforcement proceeding may consider evidence of direct payments like those in this case that were made when confirming the amount of arrearages; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the support Preston provided discharged his obligation. View "Ochsner v. Ochsner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

by
Steven Phillips was convicted of and pled guilty to several crimes. A DNA test conducted several years later excluded Phillips as the perpetrator. The trial court granted habeas relief. Thereafter, Phillips applied to the Comptroller for wrongful imprisonment compensation under the Tim Cole Act (“the Act”). The Comptroller found that Phillips was due $2 million for the time he was incarcerated. Phillips also requested compensation for child support he had failed to pay. A 1978 Arkansas divorce decree ordered Phillips to pay Cheryl Macumber child support. In 2013, Macumber sued Phillips in Texas to register and enforce the Arkansas divorce decree. The trial court rendered judgment (“the Enforcement Judgment”) for Macumber, finding she was entitled to $304,861. Phillips requested that the Comptroller pay child support compensation based on the amount awarded by the Enforcement Judgment. The Comptroller concluded that compensation owed under the Act was $25,125. Phillips petitioned for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court granted conditional relief, holding (1) the Comptroller is not bound by a court’s judgment in a child support enforcement proceeding; (2) the Comptroller’s determinations are subject to review by the Supreme Court; and (3) in this case, the Comptroller is directed to recalculate the compensation owed to Phillips under section 103.052(1)(2) of the Act. View "In re Phillips" on Justia Law

by
In In re P.M., the Supreme Court concluded that, in government-initiated parental rights termination proceedings, the statutory right of indigent parents to counsel endures until all appeals are exhausted. In this case, the trial court terminated the parental rights of C.S.F. The court of appeals affirmed. Acting pro se and outside the time for filing a petition for review, C.S.F. filed a motion in the Supreme Court seeking an extension of time and a hand-written indigency affidavit. The Supreme Court referred the case to the trial court for appointment of counsel to represent C.S.F. in the Supreme Court, holding that C.S.F. should be able to pursue any argument regarding her case with the assistance of new counsel. View "C.S.F. v. Dep’t of Family & Protective Servs." on Justia Law

by
Petitioners were six individuals who sued for divorce in Tarrant County between 2008 and 2012. Petitioners filed uncontested affidavits of indigence in lieu of paying costs pursuant to Tex. R. Civ. P. 145, but Petitioners’ final divorce decrees nevertheless allocated costs. In 2012, the District Clerk of Tarrant County sent collection notices to each Petitioner demanding about $300 in court costs and fees and threatening the seizure of Petitioners’ property to satisfy the debt. Petitioners sued for mandamus, injunctive, and declaratory relief in a district court that had not issued any of their divorce decrees. The district court temporarily enjoined the District Clerk from collecting court costs from indigent parties who have filed an affidavit on indigency. The court of appeals vacated the injunction and dismissed the case because the trial court had not rendered the judgments in the cases in which costs were billed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court had jurisdiction over the petitions; and (2) the temporary injunction was proper. Remanded. View "Campbell v. Wilder" on Justia Law

by
After a retrial, a jury found that Mother had endangered her daughter and that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the daughter’s best interest. The court of appeals affirmed. The attorney in Mother’s second appeal moved to withdraw. The court of appeals granted the motion to withdraw without considering whether new counsel should be appointed. Mother, who was indigent, filed a motion for appointment of counsel, which motion was transferred to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court abated the case to consider the issue of Mother’s right to counsel. The Supreme Court granted counsel’s motion to withdraw and Mother’s motion for appointment of counsel, holding (1) the court of appeals did not abuse its discretion by allowing counsel to withdraw; and (2) the right to counsel under Tex. Fam. Code Ann. 107.103(a) includes all proceedings in the Court, including the filing of a petition for review, and if a court of appeals allows an attorney to withdraw, it must provide for the appointment of new counsel to pursue a petition for review. View "In re P.M." on Justia Law

by
When Mother and Father divorced, the decree gave Mother the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the couple’s two sons and ordered Father to pay monthly child support. After Mother moved to another city with the children, Father filed a motion to modify the divorce decree to obtain the right to determine the children’s residence and to reduce his child support. The trial court granted Father’s petition. After the trial court’s plenary jurisdiction had expired, Mother filed a motion to reopen and vacate order, arguing that she had not been given notice of Father’s motion to modify because she did not live at the address where the citation was posted. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals dismissed Mother’s appeal for want of jurisdiction, concluding that Mother’s motion did not extend the trial court’s plenary jurisdiction and post-judgment deadlines to run from the date she received notice of the trial court’s order because it was not captioned a motion under Tex. R. Civ. P. 306a. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that justice plainly required the trial court and court of appeals to treat Mother’s motion as extending post-judgment deadlines and that Mother's appeal was timely filed. Remanded. View "In re Interest of J.Z.P." on Justia Law

by
At issue in this case was the scope of attorneys’ immunity from civil liability to non-clients. Philip Byrd and Nancy Simenstad commenced divorce proceedings. Simenstad was represented in the proceedings by Cantey Hanger, LLP. The parties eventually settled. The decree awarded Simenstad three aircraft as her separate property, including a Piper Seminole that had been owned by Lucy Leasing, Co., LLC. Byrd and two of the companies awarded to Byrd in the decree later sued Simenstad and Cantey Hanger alleging that after the decree was entered, Defendants falsified a bill of sale transferring the Piper Seminole from Lucy Leasing to a third party in order to shift tax liability for the aircraft to Byrd in contravention of the divorce decree. The trial court granted summary judgment to Cantey Hanger on attorney-immunity grounds. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the firm’s alleged misconduct was unrelated to the divorce litigation and that the firm had not conclusively established its entitlement to immunity. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the trial court’s judgment, holding that Canter Hanger conclusively established that it is immune from civil liability to Plaintiffs, and therefore, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was proper. View "Cantey Hanger, LLP v. Byrd" on Justia Law