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In re J.H.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

June 20, 2019


          On Appeal from the 326th District Court Taylor County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 49534-C

          Panel consists of: Bailey, C.J., Stretcher, J., and Wright, S.C.J. [1]



         Father appeals the trial court's final decree of divorce dissolving his marriage to Mother. In four issues, Father asserts that (1) there is insufficient evidence to support the trial court's appointment of Mother as the sole managing conservator of the parties' two children or the trial court's order that Father have only limited contact with the children and (2) the trial court erred by ordering Father to surrender possession of his firearms for a period of ninety days and to undergo an evaluation and participate in counseling. We affirm.

         Background Facts

         Father and Mother met through a youth group at a church in Coleman. Father was thirty-seven years old and the youth pastor at the church. Mother was sixteen or seventeen years old and a member of the youth group. According to Mother, she had been "off doing all sorts of crazy bad things" and was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a teacher at her school. When Mother realized how "bad of a situation it was," she turned to Father for advice on what she should do to get out of the "trouble [she] was in."

         Father did not advise Mother to report the relationship with her teacher to the authorities. Rather, he told Mother that she was in the situation because of her choices and that God would not approve of the choices she had made. Father also told Mother that she needed to "figure out" what she wanted. Father then initiated a sexual relationship with Mother. After Father said that "it was . . . either [the teacher] or him," Mother ended her relationship with the teacher.

         According to Father, he and Mother were initially just friends. However, the pastor of the church, as well as a deacon and his wife, commented on how well Father and Mother "got along" and encouraged them to date. Father and Mother "considered it and then one thing led to another." Father denied that he had had a sexual relationship with Mother before they were married.

         Mother testified that, "towards the end of [her] 17-year mark," church leaders discovered her relationship with Father. The church leaders told Father that he could either leave the church quietly or be fired. Father told Mother that he was forced to leave one of his previous churches because of his relationship with a teenager in his youth group. Father was distressed over the situation at the church and told Mother that, if he was fired from the church and she left him, he would lose everything he had and would have no reason to live. Father pressured Mother to commit to him and made it "sound like he was going to get his gun." Because Mother thought Father was going to kill himself, she told him that she was "just going to marry [him] and that is going to be the end of that."

         Father, however, denied that he had had an inappropriate relationship with a teenager at his prior church, was fired from that church, or was forced to leave the church in Coleman because of his relationship with Mother. Rather, he left the church in Coleman because he was "burned out" on ministry. Father denied threatening to commit suicide if Mother would not marry him.

         Father and Mother married three days after Mother's eighteenth birthday. Father then moved from Coleman to Abilene and obtained his license to sell real estate. Mother remained in Coleman until she graduated from high school and then joined Father in Abilene. Father and Mother began attending a church outside Abilene. Father was asked to become the youth pastor at the church and, several years later, to be the pastor of the church.

         J.H.C., the parties' first child, was born after Father and Mother had been married for five years. Approximately seventeen months later, I.K.C. was born. When I.K.C. was five months old, Father and Mother became the guardians of Father's great-nephew, who was eight months old. For three years, Mother was a stay-at-home mother to all three children.

         Father's great-nephew had a number of medical problems. Mother became interested in the "medical aspect" of his care, and the parties decided that Mother would attend nursing school. While Mother attended school, Father was the primary caregiver for the children. After Mother graduated from nursing school, she began working full time as an emergency room nurse.

         The parties' relationship soon began to deteriorate. According to Mother, Father did not like her friends and began going through the text messages on her phone. He also began attacking her and her friends in conversations with church members and in his sermons. Greg McEachren, a member of the church, confirmed that Father began to speak negatively about Mother to church parishioners and to incorporate complaints about Mother into his sermons. Father, however, denied that he "abused the pulpit" to attack Mother.

         Although the record is not clear on the timing, at some point, Father and Mother had a discussion about temporarily separating. Father opposed the separation and stated that he thought that it was best for Mother and the children if he just "[blew his] head off." Father then "methodically" kissed Mother, "like goodbye forever," and left the house. Mother was afraid that Father had a gun, was very worried about him, and attempted to find him. Mother later decided that Father got "joy" out of upsetting or "drawing emotion" out of her. Father described the incident as a "tit for tat" because, the previous night, Mother had said that it would be better if she was dead and then she had gone for a long drive. Mother, however, denied that she threatened to kill herself; rather, she told Father that she needed some time away and that she was going for a drive.

         Mother asked Father to participate in marriage counseling, and they attended two counseling sessions with Margaret Shugart. Father then suggested to Mother that they get "true Christian counseling" from McEachren and his wife. Mother went to a third counseling session with Shugart to tell her of the change in plans. At the end of the session, Shugart gave Mother literature describing the attributes of nonviolent, healthy relationships and of violent, unhealthy relationships. Mother became "scared" after reviewing the information because, in her opinion, Father matched "every one of the attributes of the unhealthy, violent relationship" but matched "very few of the healthy side."

         McEachren testified that Father had indicated that he was the victim and that none of the problems in the marriage were his fault. The McEachrens, therefore, had a lot of animosity toward Mother at the start of the counseling sessions. However, after listening to Mother, the McEachrens realized that many of the things that Father had said were not true. Further, during the counseling sessions, Father "owned up to . . . the verbal abuse that he would do, the manipulation, the lying, [and] the victimization."

         McEachren testified that he and Father had several more meetings at which they discussed that Father was not doing what he needed to do to save the marriage. In McEachren's opinion, it got to the point that Father was just lying to him. Father, however, testified that he had only one conversation with McEachren after the first counseling session and that McEachren became very angry during that conversation. Because Father was afraid of the "violence" in McEachren's voice, he hung up and never spoke to McEachren again.

         Father and Mother subsequently made plans to spend an afternoon together to work on their relationship. According to Mother, McEachren called Father that morning and "got onto him about the lies." Father then called Mother. Mother and the McEachrens happened to be at the same coffee shop when Father called, and Mother took the phone call outside. Father was infuriated and "just really mad" at McEachren. Because Father was so upset, Mother told him that she did not think that they should meet that afternoon.

         A couple of minutes later, the McEachrens and Mother were together in the coffee shop when Father called Mother again. In contrast to his demeanor during the first phone call, Father was calm and "methodical[ ]." Father again asked Mother to meet him. When Mother hesitated, Father said: "It's not like I am going to take you out in the woods and shoot you." McEachren, who overheard the statement, testified that this was the first time he saw any indication that Father was violent.

         Although Mother was frightened by the conversation, she agreed to meet Father for lunch. Mother gave Father an "ultimatum" and told him that he needed to get psychological help due to his erratic behaviors that were "freaking [her] out." Father responded that Mother needed to get psychological help and to get back on her "meds," meaning the antidepressant that Mother was taking when she was at home with three young children. Mother testified that Father liked her to take the medication because she became a "zombie" and did not give him any "push back." That evening, Mother told Father that they needed a weekend apart. Mother explained that the children would stay with her mother and that she would stay with a friend.

         Mother had seen Father angry before when she made a decision that he did not like. Mother also knew that Father owned a number of pistols, rifles, and shotguns and had placed loaded guns throughout the house after receiving a threat from his nephew. When Father heard Mother's plan for the weekend, he became very angry and shoved his hand under a pillow. Mother was afraid that Father was getting a gun and was going to shoot her. Although Father was only retrieving his phone, ...

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