Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
THE 419TH DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY NO.
D-1-FM-16-002867 THE HONORABLE AMY CLARK MEACHUM, JUDGE
Justices Goodwin, Baker, and Smith.
Sheen appeals from a divorce decree dissolving her marriage
to Nicholas Sheen and distributing their community
property. Lynn argues in six issues that the
district court abused its discretion by denying her motion
for a continuance, excluding the testimony of her expert,
denying her claim for spousal maintenance, dividing the
parties' community property without supporting evidence,
and awarding Nicholas contingent appellate attorney's
fees. We will affirm the divorce decree.
and Nicholas married in 1998 in New Zealand but lived in the
United States during the marriage. Lynn stopped working in
2010 due to health problems. The parties sued each other for
divorce in 2016, and Nicholas informed Lynn he intended to
return to New Zealand and cease supporting her. At Lynn's
request, the district court signed temporary orders directing
Nicholas to pay temporary spousal support and Lynn's
medical bills and to continue making mortgage payments on the
district court convened a bench trial in December 2017.
Lynn's counsel made an oral motion for a continuance to
allow for more time to prepare. The district court denied the
motion and proceeded to the merits. The parties each sought a
disproportionate share of the community estate based on
mutual claims of waste of community assets and of physical
abuse. Lynn further alleged that Nicholas had failed to make
all the payments required by the temporary orders. The
district court heard testimony from the parties and from a
certified appraiser who testified for Nicholas that the
martial residence was worth $575, 000. Lynn disagreed and in
her own testimony estimated its value at $430, 000. The
district court admitted property inventories, bank records,
police reports, and medical records offered by both parties.
addition to dividing the community estate in her favor, Lynn
asked the district court to order Nicholas to pay spousal
maintenance. See Tex. Fam. Code § 8.051
(authorizing courts to order maintenance payments in certain
circumstances). Lynn argued she was eligible for maintenance
because she is disabled and unable to work. See id.
§ 8.051(2)(A) (authorizing courts to order maintenance
if a spouse is "unable to earn sufficient income to
provide for [her] minimum reasonable needs because of an
incapacitating physical or mental disability"). Lynn
called Dr. Iris Wingrove, a neurologist who had been treating
her, to testify on the nature and extent of her disability.
Nicholas objected that Lynn had failed to disclose Dr.
Wingrove's opinions in discovery. See Tex. R.
Civ. P. 194.2(f)(3) (requiring disclosure of "general
substance" of testifying expert's "mental
impressions and opinions" and brief summary of their
basis). The district court sustained Nicholas' objection.
Dr. Wingrove testified during an offer of proof that she has
diagnosed Lynn with paraneoplastic syndrome, an autoimmune
disorder that causes epileptic seizures and fatigue, among
other symptoms. In Dr. Wingrove's opinion, Lynn is
completely disabled and unlikely ever to work again.
district court signed a decree awarding the residence to Lynn
and directing her to reimburse Nicholas $97, 500 for his
share of the residence and dividing the remaining community
assets. The decree provides the parties will bear their own
trial-level attorney's fees but awards each party $25,
000 in contingent appellate attorney's fees. The decree
does not specifically address Lynn's request for spousal
maintenance but denies all relief not expressly granted. The
district court denied Lynn's motion for new trial, and
this appeal followed.
argues in six issues that the district court abused its
discretion by denying her motion for a continuance, excluding
Dr. Wingrove's testimony, denying Lynn's spousal
maintenance claim, denying her waste claim, and awarding
Nicholas a disproportionate share of the community estate and
conditional appellate fees.
review each of Lynn's issues for an abuse of discretion.
See In re Marriage of Harrison, 557 S.W.3d 99, 112,
121 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2018, pet. denied)
(exclusion of evidence, denial of continuance, and division
of property); Fuentes v. Zaragoza, 555 S.W.3d 141,
171 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2018, no pet.) (spousal
maintenance). A trial court ruling constitutes an abuse of
discretion if it is arbitrary and unreasonable, made without
regard for guiding legal principles or supporting evidence.
Ford Motor Co. v. Garcia, 363 S.W.3d 573, 578 (Tex.
2012). The insufficiency of the evidence is not an
independent ground for reversal under this standard but is
relevant to determining whether the trial court abused its
discretion. Zeifman v. Michels, 212 S.W.3d 582, 587
(Tex. App.-Austin 2006, pet. denied). This analysis entails a
two-part inquiry where we determine first "whether the
trial court had sufficient information upon which to exercise
its discretion" and, if so, "whether the trial
court erred in its application of that discretion."
Cline v. Cline, 557 S.W.3d 810, 813 (Tex.
App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2018, no pet.). We apply traditional
sufficiency standards of review to answer the first question.