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In re Marriage of Farmer

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

May 17, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE MARRIAGE OF CINDY GARZA FARMER AND JOHN CLINTON FARMER

          On Appeal from the 310th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2015-15899

          Panel consists of Justices Boyce, Jamison, and Brown.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Marc W. Brown Justice

         Cindy Garza Farmer appeals the trial court's final decree of divorce. Cindy contends that the divorce decree should be vacated because it departs from the terms of the mediated settlement agreement, Cindy's expert witness was excluded, and Cindy's motion for a continuance was denied. We affirm.

         I. Background

         In March 2015, Cindy filed for divorce from John. John answered and filed a counter-petition for divorce.[1] The parties moved for multiple continuances of the trial date. After granting several continuances, the trial court denied Cindy's final motion for continuance. Trial was set for September 19, 2016.

         On the date of trial, the trial court reiterated the denial of the final motion for continuance. The trial court also heard and granted John's motion to exclude Cindy's expert Robert Adams. The parties subsequently entered into a Binding Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA). See Tex. Fam. Code. Ann. § 6.602 (West 2017). That same day, the agreement was proved up before the court.

The MSA specifically provides:
Pursuant to Sections 6.601, 6.602, and 153.0071 of the Texas Family Code, the undersigned parties to this Binding Mediated Settlement Agreement agree to compromise and settle the claims and controversies between them.
. . .
The parties agree and stipulate that this Binding Mediated Settlement Agreement provides a basic outline of their complete agreement; however, the parties understand and acknowledge that this Agreement may omit specific details or terms that must be included in an enforceable final order or decree. Consequently, the parties agree that whether this Binding Mediated Settlement Agreement specifically provides the necessary language to make the final order or decree enforceable, the parties intend that the drafting party shall insert all the details, appropriate dates, times, locations, and notice requirements necessary to make the final order or decree enforceable.
If any dispute arises with regard to the interpretation or performance of this Agreement or any of its provisions, including the necessity, form and substance of documents, the parties agree to try to resolve the dispute by telephone conference or meeting with Jeffrey H. Uzick, the Mediator who facilitated this settlement. Any disputes regarding drafting shall be resolved whenever possible by reference to the Texas Family Law Practice Manual, unless the Family Code has been modified after the published date of the manual; in such event the Family Code shall take precedence. In the event an agreement cannot be reached on drafting or intent, the mediator shall act as the arbiter of the issue and shall resolve the issue by telephone conference or meeting of the attorneys and mediator prior to the date of entry. Such decision of the mediator shall be final and binding.

(emphasis added).

         On October 26, 2016, the trial court entered a final decree of divorce. Cindy filed a motion for new trial, primarily complaining that the trial court improperly incorporated a "Property Division" into the divorce decree rather than the MSA. Cindy conceded that the property division was signed by Jeff Uzick; Cindy included in her motion the signature page of the property division showing that Uzick had signed the document as "Arbitrator." Cindy argued, however, that the property division took place before the ...


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