Appeal from the 247th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2015-22036
consists of Justices Keyes, Higley, and Landau.
Carter Higley, Justice.
Carver Bunts ("Father") and Sensimone Williams
("Mother") are the parents of a daughter
("Beth") born in 2009. In 2015, Mother filed suit
against Father, requesting the trial court to adjudicate the
parent-child relationship between Father and Beth and to
determine, inter alia, whether Mother was entitled to
retroactive child support against Father. Mother also
requested that Father be prohibited from taking Beth to
Brazil, a country to which Father has ties. Following a bench
trial, the trial court signed a judgment adjudicating
Father's parentage, awarding Mother retroactive child
support, prohibiting Father from taking Beth to Brazil, and
addressing other issues related to conservatorship,
possession, and support. The trial court filed findings of
fact and conclusions of law in support of its judgment.
issues, Father challenges the trial court's judgment. He
contends that the trial court abused its discretion by
awarding Mother $52, 508 in retroactive child support and by
prohibiting him from taking Beth to Brazil. He also complains
that the trial court should have filed additional findings of
fact and conclusions of law.
and Father have never been married to one another nor have
they ever lived together. However, Mother and Father have
known each other since they were teenagers. They attended the
same high school and the same college. They maintained their
relationship when each went to different graduate schools and
then began their professional careers.
time of Beth's birth in September 2009, Mother lived in
New Jersey, and Father lived in California. Father was
present at Beth's birth, and he was named as her father
on her birth certificate. After the birth, Father continued
to live in California and would travel to see Beth in New
Jersey, staying in Mother's home when he came to visit.
Beth was six months old, Mother accepted a job in Virginia,
and she and Beth moved there. Father continued to travel from
California to see Beth, staying in Mother's home when he
visited. Father also maintained frequent telephone and video
contact with Beth.
was primarily responsible for facilitating decisions relating
to Beth's basic needs, such as her education and her
medical care. Mother kept Father informed about issues
important to Beth's development and well-being, and
Father agreed with the decisions and choices Mother made
regarding Beth's upbringing. Father would attend medical
appointments and school activities with Beth when he could.
They would all celebrate important events together, such as
birthdays. In short, during this time, Mother and Father
amicably co-parented Beth.
infant, Beth was in daycare in New Jersey. She was also in
daycare in Virginia. In 2012, Mother researched preschools
for Beth and found one that she liked, the Congressional
School. Mother and Father signed a contract with the school,
indicating that they were each individually liable for
Beth's tuition of $20, 000 to $22, 000 per year.
2012, Beth was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. To
treat the disorder, Beth was prescribed occupational therapy.
Mother and Father agreed that Beth should have occupational
therapy, but Mother paid for the therapy. Beth met her goals
for the therapy, and it was discontinued in 2014.
September 2014, Mother informed Father that he could no
longer stay in her home when he came to visit Beth. Mother
would later testify that she made this decision after Father
stayed out all night while visiting Beth and would not answer
Mother's calls. Father continued to visit Beth, but he
stayed in a hotel when he came to visit.
learned in 2014 that her employer required her to move to
Houston in June 2015. Father was informed of the upcoming
move. While still living in Virginia, Mother began to
research and visit possible schools for Beth in Houston.
Father participated in visiting the schools, and the parents
agreed on a school for Beth in Houston. Once in Houston, Beth
again needed occupational therapy.
this point, there had never been a court order adjudicating
Father's paternity. Nor had there been a court order
requiring Father to provide financial support for Beth.
However, since Beth's birth, Father had provided periodic
financial support for certain of Beth's needs. When Beth
was born, Father gave Mother $5, 000 that he had received
from his insurance company. Father also provided secondary
health insurance to Beth from 2009 until 2013.
on occasion paid for Beth's daycare in New Jersey and in
Virginia, but Mother paid for most of the daycare costs.
Father also paid school tuition at the Congressional School.
Father offered evidence at trial indicating that his tuition
payments for several years totaled around $60, 000.
trial testimony, Mother stated that Father's financial
support was discretionary, given only when Father chose to
provide it and only for expenses he chose to cover. If Father
did not pay for an expense associated with Beth's care,
then Mother paid for it. Mother described Father's
financial support as sporadic and unreliable. She said that
Father never gave her money to cover costs associated with
Beth's basic daily living expenses, such as food or
April 2015, Mother filed suit against Father in Harris
County, Texas. Mother sought an adjudication of Father's
parentage and requested orders relating to issues of
conservatorship, possession, and child support, including
retroactive child support. Father filed suit against Mother
in Virginia, seeking joint custody of Beth. Mother and Beth
moved to Houston in early June 2015 as planned. Ultimately,
it was determined that the Harris County court had
jurisdiction over the parents' dispute.
trial, the parties engaged in mediation, and temporary orders
were signed in February 2016. The orders required Father to
pay child support and to reimburse Mother for the cost of
Beth's health insurance premiums.
beginning of trial, the trial court accepted, among others,
the following stipulations of the parties:
• The parents will be Beth's joint managing
• Mother will have the exclusive right to designate
Beth's primary residence and the right to receive child
support from Father;
• Father will have standard visitation "with
• Father's net monthly resources exceed the maximum
monthly amount for guideline child support at $8, 550; and
• Father should pay Mother prospective monthly child
support of $1, 710 pursuant to the Texas Family Code
Among the disputed issues remaining to be tried were the
• Whether retroactive child support should be awarded
and, if so, how much.
• Whether passport controls and travel restrictions
should be imposed with respect to Beth.
two-day bench trial was held in July 2016. The trial court
heard the testimony of Mother, Father, and Beth's current
occupational therapist. Documentary evidence was also offered
by both parents.
trial court signed a final judgment on May 16, 2017,
adjudicating Father's parentage of Beth. Among its
provisions, the judgment also awarded Mother $52, 508.00 in
retroactive child support as follows:
The Court finds that no order adjudicating [Father] or
ordering any support for the minor child was in place until
The Court finds that the parties agreed and stipulated that
throughout the child's life, [Father's] average
monthly income exceeded the statutory cap and that the
parties agreed that periodic monthly child support going
forward would be set at $1, 170.00 as set forth herein.
The Court further finds that throughout the child's life,
[Father] earned at the statutory cap set forth in the Texas
family code prior to the September 1, 2013, amendment and
The Court further finds that since February 2016, [Father]
has paid periodic child support and reimbursed [Mother] for
the cost of covering the child on her health insurance
The Court further finds that [Father] knew he was the father
from the date of the child's birth and the Court finds
that his obligation had support been ordered would have been
$115, 590.00 in child support; and, $15, 120.00 in
reimbursement for the health insurance premium carried by
The Court also finds that [Father] did provide actual support
in the amount of $78, 202.00 since the child's birth.
The Court also finds that in light of [Father's]
education, employment history and assets, the payment of
retroactive child support will not place an undue hardship on
Accordingly, the Court, finds it is in the best interest of
the child, THEREFORE IT IS ORDERED that [Father] pay to
[Mother] retroactive child support in the amount of Fifty-Two
Thousand Five Hundred Eight & No/100 Dollars ($52,
508.00), such amount representing the difference between the
actual amounts paid and the amount that could have been
separately filed findings of fact and conclusions of law, the
trial court supported the award of retroactive child support
1.4 Findings Supporting Award of Retroactive Child
Prior to this lawsuit [Father] had not been previously
ordered to pay support for the child.
Prior to this lawsuit [Father] had not been party to a suit
in which support had been ordered.
1.5 Findings Supporting Amount of Retroactive Child
[Father] was aware he was the child's father from her
birth and never denied that he was.
It was undisputed that [Father] owns property in California,
Arizona and Brazil.
[Father] paid the agreed temporary child support amount of
$1, 710 per month after mediation in January 2016, paid his
attorneys and signed a residential lease obligating him to
pay $2, 300 per month.
[Father] paid reimbursement to [Mother] for health insurance
during the temporary orders.
No evidence was offered that [Father] was unable to meet his
financial obligations during the temporary orders at any
other relevant time.
No evidence was presented that [Father] has established or
contributed to any ...