Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas
Appeal from the 255th Judicial District Court Dallas County,
Texas Trial Court Cause No. DF-09-15331
Justices Lang-Miers, Brown, and Boatright
suit affecting the parent-child relationship, Mother appeals
orders modifying child support and enjoining Maternal
Grandfather from unsupervised access to her child, J.D.A. For
the following reasons, we modify the trial court's final
order in part, reverse it in part, and remand the case to the
trial court for further proceedings consistent with this
and Father, parents of J.D.A., divorced in August 2011.
Before the divorce, Father reported an outcry by J.D.A. of
sexual misconduct by Maternal Grandfather. Child Protective
Services (CPS) investigated the matter, which it resolved as
"unable to determine." In the divorce proceeding,
Father requested that Maternal Grandfather's access to
J.D.A. be supervised. Following trial, the trial court signed
a divorce decree appointing Mother and Father as joint
managing conservators, giving Mother the exclusive right to
designate the primary residence, and ordering Father to pay
$1500 monthly for child support. The decree further denied
Father's request that Maternal Grandfather's access
to J.D.A. be supervised.
to a mediated settlement agreement, the trial court signed an
Agreed Final Order Relating to Suit to Modify Parent/Child
Relationship (Agreed Order) in November 2015. Mother and
Father remained joint managing conservators, and Father
continued to pay child support of $1500 per month. The Agreed
Order, however, gave Mother the exclusive right to designate
the primary residence, but only within the geographic
boundaries feeding into J.D.A.'s elementary school in
Coppell, Texas until Father resided within those boundaries.
Once Father moved within those boundaries, the Agreed Order
provided for a more equitable access and possession schedule.
And, following entry of the Agreed Order, Father moved into
the same Coppell apartment complex where Mother and J.D.A.
lived, triggering the new schedule.
three months later, Mother notified Father that she planned
to move to her parents' home in Arlington, Texas. In
response, Father filed a petition to modify parent-child
relationship and request for sanctions. Among other things,
Father requested that, should Mother move outside the
geographic boundaries described in the Agreed Order, he be
named sole managing conservator, J.D.A.'s residence and
all periods of possession remain within the Agreed
Order's geographical boundaries, Mother be ordered to pay
child support, and Maternal Grandfather be allowed only
supervised access to J.D.A.
trial court held a bench trial on Father's motion to
modify. Mother represented herself pro se. She testified that
she moved to her parents' house due to her financial
situation. She had worked as a self-employed certified public
accountant (CPA) on and off since 2003. She thought she may
have reported income of $15, 000 on her 2015 tax return, but
could not remember. She was earning an average of about $1000
per month at the time of trial. Her income depended on how
many hours she could work and varied each month. She had
suffered from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) since 2000. Her MS
caused fatigue, which impacted the hours she could work. Her
rent expense in Coppell was $1800 per month, and she had to
pay for J.D.A.'s expenses when he was living with her.
She also had extensive litigation costs, which required her
to lower her expenses. She had borrowed $30, 000 on a credit
card and was trying to pay $500 per month on that debt.
Mother conceded that she was aware of her expenses, including
the high litigation bills, during the settlement negotiations
prior to entry of the Agreed Order.
acknowledged Mother suffered from fatigue and questioned her
physical capacity to raise J.D.A. He nevertheless believed
she was "making more than what she told the Court"
and "either lying to the court or underemploying
herself." Maternal Grandfather testified that Mother did
not have a regular income, and he had helped her financially
since her move at the end of March 2016. She moved so she
could pay her litigation costs and work with her doctor to
regain her health.
trial court asked Mother why she was underemployed; Mother
responded that it was due to her health and the ongoing
litigation. The trial court then stated on the record,
"I'll look up what a public accountant makes, and
I'll determine what your child support is on that
trial court issued a memorandum ruling the day of trial.
Under the ruling, both parents remained joint managing
conservators, but Father would determine the primary
residence. Mother would pay child support of $652 per month
based on the trial court's findings that Mother was
intentionally underemployed and the median salary for a CPA
in Tarrant County was $50, 000. The ruling also included a
permanent injunction precluding Maternal Grandfather from
unsupervised access to J.D.A. The trial court subsequently
entered a Final Order in Suit to Modify Parent-Child
Relationship consistent with the memorandum ruling. Mother
filed a timely request for findings of fact and conclusions
of law under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 296. Thereafter,
she also filed a notice and a supplemental notice of past due
findings and conclusions. The trial court never entered the
requested findings and conclusions, and Mother appealed to
second issue, Mother contends the trial court abused its
discretion in ordering her to pay monthly child support of
$652. We review a trial court's child support order for
abuse of discretion. Worford v. Stamper, 801 S.W.2d
108, 109 (Tex. 1990); In re J. G. L., 295 S.W.3d
424, 426 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2009, no pet.). A trial court
abuses its discretion if its decision is arbitrary,
unreasonable, or without reference to any guiding rules or
principles. In re J. G. L., 295 S.W.3d at 426;
see Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d
238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985). In family law cases, the abuse of
discretion standard overlaps the traditional sufficiency
standard of review; legal and factual sufficiency of the
evidence are not independent grounds of error but are
relevant factors as to whether a trial court abused its
discretion. In re P.C.S., 320 S.W.3d 525, 530-31
(Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, pet. denied). If evidence of a
"substantive and probative character" supports a
trial court's judgment, it ...