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In re S.V.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

April 9, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF S.V. AND S.V., CHILDREN

          On Appeal from the 255th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DF-04-11968-V

          Before Justices Partida-Kipness, Pedersen, III, and Carlyle

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BILL PEDERSEN, III JUSTICE

         Venky Venkatraman (Father), a pro se party, appeals a final order that denied his motion to reduce child support. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         Father and Jyoti Masurekar (Mother) divorced in 2004. They have two children, S.V. and S.V. In the divorce, the court ordered Father to pay child support in the amount of $1, 118.70 per month. Father did so for nearly a decade. In 2015, Father filed a motion to reduce his child support obligation. The court temporarily reduced his monthly payments to $750 per month. In a mediation that same year, Father agreed to resume monthly payments of $1, 118.70 once the litigation was complete. The case was tried in November 2015. The following year, on May 4, 2016, the court signed an order that reinstated Father's $1, 118.70 monthly obligation as of the retroactive date of December 1, 2015.[1]

         In December 2016, Father filed another motion to reduce child support. The motion alleged that his circumstances had "materially and substantially changed." He referenced "the income reported in his tax returns over the last 2 years" and his increased cost in 2016 of providing health insurance for the children. Based on these purported changes, he requested that the court reduce his monthly child support obligation.

         Previously, on October 4, 2016, Father had also filed an emergency motion for enforcement. This motion claimed the court had signed a final order on March 4, 2016, [2] which (i) ordered that Father had the right to possession of the children at times agreeable to the children, and (ii) required the children to provide Father with advance notice of each visit. Father's motion for enforcement contended the children had not provided him notice of any visit as required by the order. He also urged that a provision from a prior March 2012 order- which appointed Carrie Beaird as the "Parenting Facilitator"-was not superseded by the subsequent May 4, 2016 order. Based on this provision from the 2012 order, Father requested the court to compel Mother to bring the children for sessions with Beaird so that she could schedule Father's visits with the children.

         The court held a May 1, 2017 bench trial that addressed several pending matters regarding Mother and Father, including the foregoing motions. Judge Carmen Rivera-Worley, a visiting judge, presided over the trial. The court denied Father's motion to reduce child support and awarded Mother $750 in attorney's fees. The court did not at that time rule on Father's emergency motion for enforcement. As described in more detail below, it instead directed Father to send opposing counsel a proposed order later that same day that restated the subject language from the March 2012 order. The court also ordered counsel to appear the following day, on May 2, to discuss Father's proposed order and Mother's objections thereto, if any. Father did not submit a proposed order on May 1, nor did a hearing occur on May 2.

         Over five months later, on October 20, 2017, the court signed an order that confirmed its previous denial of Father's motion to reduce child support and its award of $750 in attorney's fees to Mother. The October 20 order did not reference Father's emergency motion for enforcement, but it contained a clause that stated, "this is a final judgment, is appealable[, ] and . . . all relief requested in this case and not expressly granted is denied." See Lehmann v. Har-Con Corp., 39 S.W.3d 191, 200 (Tex. 2001) (holding that an order is final and appealable if the intent to finally dispose of the case is clear from the order).

         On November 9, 2017, Father requested findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the portion of the October 20 order that awarded attorney's fees to Mother. The court did not respond to Father's request. On November 30, 2017, Father filed a notice of past due findings of fact and conclusions of law. The following day, on December 1, Father also requested additional findings and conclusions. Among other requests, he asked the court to make findings regarding the portion of its October 20 order that had denied Father's emergency motion for enforcement. The court did not respond to Father's request. Ten days later, on December 11, Father filed a notice of past due additional findings and conclusions.

         The court did not respond to Father's notice of past due findings filed on November 30, nor to his notice of past due additional findings filed on December 11. On January 10, 2018, Judge Rivera-Worley signed an order that voluntarily recused herself from hearing any further issues in the case. This order also requested the assignment of a new judge to hear the case. The order did not disclose why Judge Rivera-Worley recused herself.

         Father appealed the October 20 order denying his motion to reduce child support and his emergency motion for enforcement.[3]

         ANALYSIS

         Failure to Make Findings

         Father raises three issues, the first of which complains the court erred by not responding to his request for findings of fact and conclusions of law. Father contends (i) the court erred by failing to file findings and conclusions, (ii) such error is presumed harmful, (iii) Judge Rivera-Wooley is the only judge who could file the findings and conclusions, and (iv) since she is now recused, the only available remedy is to remand this case for a new trial. In evaluating Father's argument, we will assume the events necessitating Judge Rivera-Worley's recusal did not arise until January 10, 2018, the day she signed the order of recusal. We begin by analyzing whether the judge erred by not filing findings and conclusions before she recused herself.

         Family ...


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