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Clemons v. Lynn

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

March 22, 2017

Phillip Randall Clemons, Appellant
v.
Vianney Lynn, Appellee

         FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF BELL COUNTY, 426TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT NO. 254, 204, HONORABLE FANCY H. JEZEK, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Field and Bourland

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Scott K. Field, Justice.

         Appellant Phillip Randall Clemons (Father) appeals the trial court's final order in this suit affecting the parent-child relationship. In two issues, Father challenges that portion of the order granting appellee Vianney Lynn (Mother) the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of their child. We will affirm the trial court's order.

         BACKGROUND

         Mother and Father's child, H.C.C., was born on October 2, 2010. After the relationship between Mother and Father ended, Mother filed a petition in December 2011 seeking to be appointed a joint managing conservator with Father and to be granted the exclusive right to determine H.C.C.'s primary residence. Father subsequently filed an answer and counter-petition, also seeking to be named a joint managing conservator and to be granted the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the child without geographical restriction.

         Following a final hearing, at which the trial court heard testimony concerning H.C.C.'s relationship with both Mother and Father, the trial court signed an order appointing Mother and Father as joint managing conservators, designating Mother as the conservator with the right to determine H.C.C.'s primary residence (with restriction to Bell County, Bexar County, and their contiguous counties), and requiring Father to pay child support and provide health insurance for H.C.C. The trial court later issued findings of fact and conclusions of law in which the trial court concluded, among other things, that "the parties both love and support the child and are appropriate parents to be named joint managing conservators of H.C.C." and that the court's decisions regarding conservatorship and access "are in the best interest of H.C.C." This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         We review a trial court's decisions regarding conservatorship, including a determination of which conservator will have the right to establish the child's primary residence, for an abuse of discretion. In re J.A.J., 243 S.W.3d 611, 616 (Tex. 2007). The test for abuse of discretion is whether the trial court acted in an arbitrary and unreasonable manner or whether it acted without reference to any guiding principles. Echols v. Olivarez, 85 S.W.3d 475, 477 (Tex. App.-Austin 2002, no pet.).

         In family law cases, the abuse-of-discretion standard overlaps with traditional sufficiency standards of review. Zeifman v. Michels, 212 S.W.3d 582, 587 (Tex. App.-Austin 2006, pet. denied); see Miller v. Miller, No. 03-14-00603-CV, 2015 WL 6830754, at *5 (Tex. App.-Austin Nov. 4, 2015, no pet.) (mem. op.). Consequently, legal and factual sufficiency are not independent grounds of errors but are relevant factors in determining whether the trial court abused its discretion. Zeifman, 212 S.W.3d at 587. In applying the standard, we engage in a two-pronged inquiry: (1)whether the trial court had sufficient information upon which to exercise its discretion and (2)whether the trial court erred in its application of that discretion. Echols, 85 S.W.3d at 477. The focus of the first inquiry is the sufficiency of the evidence. Zeifman, 212 S.W.3d at 588. Under the second inquiry, we must decide whether, based on the evidence before it, the trial court made a reasonable decision. Id.

         To determine if the evidence is legally sufficient to support the trial court's exercise of discretion, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's findings, crediting favorable evidence if a reasonable factfinder could and disregarding evidence to the contrary unless a reasonable factfinder could not. City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 807 (Tex. 2005). When reviewing the evidence for factual sufficiency, we consider and weigh all the evidence presented and will set aside the trial court's findings only if they are so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence such that they are clearly wrong and unjust. Id. at 826. When the evidence conflicts, we must presume that the factfinder resolved any inconsistencies in favor of the order if a reasonable person could do so. Id. at 822.

         The trial court is best able "to observe the demeanor and personalities of the witnesses and [to] 'feel' the forces, powers, and influences that cannot be discerned by merely reading the record." Echols, 85 S.W.3d at 477. The fact that we might decide the issue differently than the trial court does not establish an abuse of discretion. Zeifman, 212 S.W.3d at 587. In an appeal from a bench trial, findings of fact are the equivalent of jury answers to special issues, and we cannot substitute our conclusions for those of the trial court if there is sufficient evidence to support the court's findings. Echols, 85 S.W.3d at 477. "An abuse of discretion does not occur as long as some evidence of a substantive and probative character exists to support the trial court's decision." Id.

         ANALYSIS

         In two issues on appeal, Father contends that the trial court abused its discretion in designating Mother as the conservator with the right to establish H.C.C.'s primary residence because, according to Father, the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial ...


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