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In re J.A.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

May 14, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF J.A.C. AND Z.C.C., MINOR CHILDREN

          On Appeal from the 470th Judicial District Court Collin County, Texas, Trial Court Cause No. 470-54259-2014

          Before Justices Lang, Fillmore, and Schenck.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBERT M. FILLMORE JUSTICE.

         Through Mother, J.A.C. and Z.C.C. (collectively, the twins) filed a petition to adjudicate parentage, seeking to terminate the parent-child relationship between them and their adjudicated father ( N.C. ) and to establish a parent-child relationship between them and another man (W.M.). Mother filed a cross-claim against W.M., requesting that, if the trial court adjudicated W.M. to be the twins' father, it also enter orders relating to conservatorship, possession of or access to the twins, and current and retroactive child support. W.M. moved for traditional summary judgment on Mother's cross-claim on grounds the claim was barred by the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata because Mother was a party to two prior divorce proceedings in which N.C. was adjudicated to be the twins' father. The trial court granted W.M.'s motion for summary judgment and, after a bench trial on the twins' petition, adjudicated W.M. to be the twins' father.

         Mother brought this appeal, alleging in two issues that the trial court erred by granting W.M.'s motion for summary judgment and by failing to adjudicate N.C. as not being the twins' father. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         Mother and N.C. were married on November 15, 1997. Prior to the marriage, Mother had begun a sexual relationship with W.M. and continued that relationship after she married N.C. The twins were born in May 2001.

         In 2003, Mother filed a petition for divorce in the Family Court for the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Court in South Carolina. On April 23, 2004, the South Carolina court rendered a Final Decree of Divorce dissolving Mother and N.C. 's marriage. Although N.C. did not attend the hearing on Mother's petition for divorce, Mother attended and presented evidence. As relevant to this case, the South Carolina court found the twins and two other children were born of Mother and N.C. 's marriage, N.C. and Mother agreed that Mother would retain custody of the "parties' children, " and Mother waived court-ordered child support "at this time." The decree stated Mother and N.C. would "work out" visitation with the children. The South Carolina Court ordered that the divorce decree constituted a "settlement of all matters pertaining to the custody, visitation and support of the minor children."

         Mother and N.C. re-married on June 15, 2004. In 2008, Mother filed a petition for divorce in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia. On June 25, 2008, the Georgia court rendered a Final Judgment and Decree dissolving Mother and N.C. 's second marriage. Attached to the divorce decree was Mother and N.C. 's settlement agreement, which provided that four children, including the twins, were "born as issue of this marriage." Mother and N.C. settled all debts and claims "arising from the marital relationship, " including child custody and child support. Both Mother and N.C. "express[ed] their love and affection for the minor children born of this marriage" and specifically referenced the twins. Mother and N.C. agreed that Mother would have primary physical custody of the children and N.C. would have secondary physical custody. Mother and N.C. also agreed to a visitation schedule for the children and to discuss all major decisions concerning the children. N.C. agreed to pay monthly child support in the amount of $2, 500, and was given the right to claim the tax "dependency deduction" for the children. The Georgia court incorporated Mother and N.C. 's settlement agreement into the divorce decree, ordered Mother and N.C. to comply with the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement, and ordered N.C. to pay monthly child support of $2, 500 to Mother.

         Mother's relationship with W.M. ended in early 2013. In 2014, the twins, through Mother, sued W.M. and N.C., requesting that the trial court adjudicate W.M. to be their father and adjudicate N.C. to not be their father. Mother filed a petition in intervention requesting that, if the trial court terminated the parent-child relationship between N.C. and the twins and established a parent-child relationship between W.M. and the twins, she be appointed the sole managing conservator of the twins and W.M. be required to pay child support. N.C. signed an Affidavit of Voluntary Relinquishment of Parental Rights.

         W.M. filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction because N.C. was the acknowledged and adjudicated father of the twins and the twins did not have standing to challenge paternity. The trial court granted the plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the twins' petition and Mother's intervention. The twins appealed the trial court's order. We reversed the trial court's dismissal of the twins' petition, concluding they had standing under section 160.637(b) of the family code to seek an adjudication of parentage. See In re J.A.C., No. 05-15-00554-CV, 2016 WL 3854215, at *1-3 (Tex. App.-Dallas July 13, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op.).[1]

         After remand, Mother filed a cross-claim in the twins' suit to adjudicate parentage. Mother alleged she had a justiciable interest in the lawsuit because the twins' request that W.M. be adjudicated as their father would affect her "legal interests in her children." Mother requested "court orders relating to conservatorship, possession of or access to the children, and child support" if W.M. was adjudicated as the twins' father. Mother specifically sought to be named the twins' sole managing conservator, an award of an equitable portion of her and the twins' prenatal and postnatal health care expenses, an award of current child support and medical support, and retroactive child support dating to the twins' birth. The trial court appointed an attorney ad litem to represent the twins in connection with their "parentage case."

         W.M. filed a motion for traditional summary judgment on grounds Mother's cross-claim was barred by the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata because Mother had participated in the two prior divorce proceedings in which N.C. was adjudicated to be the twins' father. As summary judgment evidence, W.M. relied on the two divorce decrees and N.C. 's and Mother's deposition testimony. Mother responded to W.M.'s motion for summary judgment, but did not attach any additional summary judgment evidence. The trial court issued a "Ruling on Motion for Summary Judgment, " finding as a matter of law that both the South Carolina and Georgia divorce decrees constituted an adjudication of the twins' parentage; pursuant to section 160.637(a) of the family code, the determinations of parentage were binding on Mother;[2] and Mother's claims against W.M. relating to the parentage of the twins were barred by collateral estoppel. The trial court ruled that W.M.'s motion for summary judgment was granted "as to the claims set forth in [Mother's] Original Cross-Claim in Petition to Adjudicate Parentage[.]" The trial court subsequently signed an order granting W.M.'s traditional motion for summary judgment as to all claims asserted by Mother without stating the basis for the ruling.

         After a bench trial of the twins' claims, [3] the trial court found the results of genetic testing excluded N.C. as the twins' biological father and showed W.M. was the twins' biological father. The trial court adjudicated W.M. to be a parent of the twins, established a parent-child relationship between W.M. and the twins, and ordered the twins' birth certificates be amended to add W.M. as a parent. At ...


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