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Brown v. Wokocha

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

April 11, 2017

ADA UKAH BROWN, Appellant
v.
BRIGHT O. WOKOCHA, Appellee

         On Appeal from the 328th District Court Fort Bend County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 13-DCV-208648

          Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Bland, and Huddle.

          OPINION

          Rebeca Huddle Justice

         This appeal concerns the division of property between divorcing spouses. In three issues, Ada Ukah Brown argues that the trial court erred by (1) awarding Bright O. Wokocha a disproportionate share of the marital estate, (2) mischaracterizing some of Brown's separate property as community property, and (3) failing to award attorney's fees to James O. Okorafor, who represented third-party defendants in the trial court, including Brown's three daughters from a previous marriage and various business entities. We affirm.

         Background

         Brown and Wokocha married in April 2004. They separated in September 2011, and Brown filed for divorce in August 2013. Wokocha countersued in October 2013, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and fraud claims against Brown and several business entities. He subsequently amended his petition to include claims for fraudulent transfer, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy, and he added Brown's three adult daughters and additional business entities as co-respondents. Some of the business entities were owned or operated by Brown and Wokocha. Wokocha alleged that other of the business entities were created at Brown's behest in the name of Brown's daughters with community funds in an effort to defraud the community estate.

         Before trial, the daughters moved for summary judgment and the trial court granted their motion. The parties subsequently tried the case to the bench.[1] The trial court entered a final decree of divorce which divided the marital estate between Brown and Wokocha. Brown appealed.

          Property Division

         In her second issue, Brown contends that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding Wokocha a disproportionate share of the marital estate.

         A. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         We review a trial court's division of marital property for an abuse of discretion. Barras v. Barras, 396 S.W.3d 154, 164 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2013, pet. denied). The trial court has broad discretion when dividing the marital estate at divorce. Murff v. Murff, 615 S.W.2d 696, 698 (Tex. 1981). If the evidence demonstrates a reasonable basis for doing so, a trial court may order a disproportionate division of the community property. Id. at 698-99 & n.1. "To disturb a trial court's division of property, a party must show that the court clearly abused its discretion by a division or an order that is manifestly unjust or unfair." Barras, 396 S.W.3d at 164. A trial court abuses its discretion if it acts unreasonably or arbitrarily, or without reference to any guiding rules or principles. Id.; Evans v. Evans, 14 S.W.3d 343, 346 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, no pet.) (citing Worford v. Stamper, 801 S.W.2d 108, 109 (Tex. 1990)). A trial court does not abuse its discretion if there is some evidence of a substantive and probative nature to support the decision. Barras, 396 S.W.3d at 164.

         In order to determine whether the assets of the community estate were divided in a "just and right" manner, an appellate court must have the trial court's findings on the value of those assets. Vasudevan v. Vasudevan, No. 14-14-00765-CV, 2015 WL 4774569, at *4 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] Aug. 13, 2015, no pet.) (mem. op.) (citing Wells v. Wells, 251 S.W.3d 834, 840-41 (Tex. App.-Eastland 2008, no pet.)). Without findings of fact, the appellate court does not know the basis for the division, the values assigned to the community assets, or the percentage of the marital estate that each party received. Id. (citing Hallum v. Hallum, No. 01-09-00095-CV, 2010 WL 4910232, at *6 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 2, 2010, no pet.) (mem. op.)); Funderburgh v. Funderburgh, No. 12-08-00428-CV, 2010 WL 2982906, at *2 (Tex. App.-Tyler July 30, 2010, no pet.) (mem. op.); Wells, 251 S.W.3d at 840-41. Property inventories filed by the parties cannot serve as a substitute for findings of fact by the trial court. Id. (citing Funderburgh, 2010 WL 2982906, at *2). In the absence of trial court findings, we presume the trial court made all the necessary findings to support its judgment. Id. (citing Wells, 251 S.W.3d at 838); Hallum, 2010 WL 4910232, at *6. Thus, if a party does not request findings of fact from the trial court, a party cannot establish whether the trial court intended the division to be equal or disproportionate, and if disproportionate, what factors the trial court found to warrant an unequal distribution if one was intended. Wade v. Wade, No. 01-13-00912-CV, 2014 WL 3398393, at *4 (Tex. App.- Houston [1st Dist.] July 10, 2014, no pet.) (mem. op.) (citing Tate v. Tate, 55 S.W.3d 1, 10 (Tex. App.-El Paso, 2000, no pet.)).

          B. Analysis

         Brown argues that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding Wokocha a disproportionate share of the marital estate. Wokocha responds that the award was not disproportionate, and that, even if it were, the record supports a disproportionate award because ...


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