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Jones v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

June 6, 2019

David E. Jones, Appellant
Jessica L. Jones, Appellee


          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Kelly and Smith.


          Chari L. Kelly, Justice.

         Appellant David E. Jones appeals the trial court's final order in a child-support enforcement action brought by his ex-wife, Jessica L. Jones.[1] See Tex. Fam. Code §§ 157.001-.426 (enforcement proceedings). In six issues, David challenges the trial court's awards of unreimbursed medical expenses and attorney's fees. For the reasons set forth below, we will affirm.


         David and Jessica were divorced in January 2015 and have three children. In part, the couple's final divorce decree requires David to make periodic child-support payments through the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, Child Support Division (the "Attorney General"). The decree also requires Jessica and David each to pay 50 percent of the children's healthcare expenses not reimbursed by insurance, with the non-incurring party paying his or her portion of the uninsured healthcare expenses either by paying the healthcare provider directly or by reimbursing the incurring party.

         In October 2017, Jessica filed a "motion for enforcement of child support order and unreimbursed medical expenses." In March 2018, following a hearing on the motion, the trial court signed an order requiring David to pay $16.60 in unreimbursed medical expenses. See id. §§ 157.161-.168 (hearing and enforcement order). In addition, the trial court determined that two years earlier, a different trial court judge had heard another motion for child-support enforcement filed by Jessica and had signed an order that required David to pay $2, 466.25 in attorney's fees to Jessica's attorney pursuant to Section 157.167 of the Texas Family Code. See id. § 157.167 (respondent to pay attorney's fees and costs). In its March 2018 order, the trial court found that David had failed to pay any of the attorney's fees as required by the earlier order and again ordered him to pay attorney's fees in the amount of $2, 466.25. The trial court also ordered David to pay an additional $4, 000 in attorney's fees incurred by Jessica in pursuing her October 2017 motion for enforcement.

         Representing himself pro se, David timely filed a notice of appeal from the March 2018 order.


         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's decisions regarding child support, including a decision to award attorney's fees in a child-support enforcement action, for an abuse of discretion. Russell v. Russell, 478 S.W.3d 36, 47 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2015, no pet.); McFadden v. Deedler, No. 03-13-00486-CV, 2014 Tex.App. LEXIS 9527, at *3 (Tex. App.-Austin Aug. 27, 2014, no pet.) (mem. op.) ("Generally, we review a trial court's decision to grant or deny the relief requested in a post-divorce motion for enforcement for abuse of discretion."). A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts without reference to any guiding rules or principles, or when it fails to analyze or apply the law correctly. Worford v. Stamper, 801 S.W.2d 108, 109 (Tex. 1990). Applying this standard, legal and factual sufficiency are relevant factors in determining whether the trial court abused its discretion, but they are not independent grounds of error. Zeifman v. Michels, 212 S.W.3d 582, 587 (Tex. App.-Austin 2006, pet. denied).

         To the extent David's issues in this appeal turn on matters of statutory construction, we review these issues de novo. See Tucker v. Thomas, 419 S.W.3d 292, 295 (Tex. 2013). Our primary objective when construing statutes is to give effect to the Legislature's intent, which we ascertain by looking to the entire act. Id. (citing Iliff v. Iliff, 339 S.W.3d 74, 79 (Tex. 2011)). "Where statutory language is unambiguous and only yields one reasonable interpretation, 'we will interpret the statute according to its plain meaning.'" Iliff, 339 S.W.3d at 79 (quoting McIntyre v. Ramirez, 109 S.W.3d 741, 748 (Tex. 2003)).

         Unreimbursed medical expenses

         In two issues on appeal, David challenges the trial court's award of $16.60 in unreimbursed medical expenses to Jessica. At the hearing, Jessica presented evidence that she had presented David with a claim for his half of an unreimbursed dental expense for $108.00, which he did not pay. In its order, the trial court found that David owed Jessica for this dental expense but offset Jessica's claim by $91.40, representing unpaid medical expenses owed by Jessica to David. On appeal, David does not challenge these specific findings. See Bruce v. Bruce, No. 03-16-00581-CV, 2017 Tex.App. LEXIS 4834, at *5 (Tex. App.-Austin May 26, 2017, no pet.) (mem. op.) (noting that when trial court includes findings in its judgment but does not issue any separate findings of fact and conclusions of law, "the findings in the judgment have probative value on appeal"). Instead, David argues that he presented evidence of ...

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