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Ngwu v. Toni

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

July 24, 2019

Anthony Chijioke NGWU, Appellant
v.
Vera Amuche TONI, Appellee

          From the 224th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2017-CI-19833 Honorable Martha Tanner, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Beth Watkins, Justice Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Beth Watkins, Justice

         Appellant Anthony Chijioke Ngwu appeals a final decree of divorce, challenging the decree's child support and property division terms. We affirm.

         Background

         On October 16, 2017, Appellee Vera Amuche Toni filed for divorce from Ngwu. In her petition, she alleged that she and Ngwu had been married since 2001 and that they have four minor children, three of whom have medical conditions that required substantial care. Ngwu, represented by counsel, answered and filed a counter-petition containing many of the same allegations as Toni's petition. Before trial, Ngwu's attorney withdrew, and he received a continuance to hire new counsel. Ultimately, Ngwu represented himself at trial.

         After a bench trial, the trial court signed a decree naming Toni and Ngwu joint managing conservators of all four children with Toni having the exclusive right to determine their primary residence. The trial court ordered Ngwu to pay $1, 200 per month in child support. The trial court also found that one of Toni and Ngwu's children suffers a mental or physical disability, and ordered child support payments for this child to continue past his eighteenth birthday. The trial court also divided the marital estate, awarding each party the property in their possession and retirement accounts in their own names, and ordering each to pay the debts in their own names. It also awarded Toni three cars plus the associated debt, and Ngwu one car plus the associated debt. Ngwu requested findings of fact and conclusions of law, which the trial court provided before Ngwu appealed.

         Analysis

         On appeal, Ngwu "asserts that the trial court did not have sufficient information upon which to exercise its discretion to divide community property and assess [c]hild support payment[s]. . . ." He also argues that the trial court abused its discretion in dividing the community property and in ordering him to pay $1, 200 per month in child support.

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's orders pertaining to child support for abuse of discretion. Melton v. Toomey, 350 S.W.3d 235, 238 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2011, no pet.). "'The test for abuse of discretion is whether the trial court acted without reference to any guiding rules or principles; in other words, whether the act was arbitrary or unreasonable.'" Id. (quoting Worford v. Stamper, 801 S.W.2d 108, 109 (Tex. 1990)). Although not independent grounds of error, legal and factual sufficiency are relevant factors in assessing whether the trial court abused its discretion. Cruz v. Cruz, No. 04-17-00594-CV, 2018 WL 6793847, at *4 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Dec. 27, 2018, no pet.) (mem. op.). Where the appellant challenges the legal or factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting a child support determination, we apply a two-step test-first, we determine whether the trial court had sufficient information on which to exercise its discretion, and second, we consider whether the trial court erred in exercising that discretion. Id. at *1.

         We review a trial court's division of community property for abuse of discretion. Garza v. Garza, 217 S.W.3d 538, 548 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2006, no pet.). The Texas Family Code provides a trial court "shall order a division of the estate of the parties in a manner that the court deems just and right, having due regard for the rights of each party and any children of the marriage." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 7.001. The trial court does not abuse its discretion if there is some evidence of a substantive and probative character that supports its decision. Garza, 217 S.W.3d. at 549. As in the child support context, we review a challenge to the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence by determining: (1) whether the trial court had sufficient evidence upon which to exercise its discretion; and (2) whether the trial court erred in its application of that discretion. Id.

         Inadequate Evidence to Rule

         Ngwu-acting pro se on appeal-argues that the trial court lacked sufficient information to divide the community estate and to order child support. He complains, "[t]here is no record showing the parties . . . submitted a sworn inventory into evidence during the trial" and that there is no record showing "appellant's income and legitimate business expenditure as a self-employed individual" from the documentary or testimonial evidence admitted at trial. Toni responds that the trial court received "exhibits presented by Appellee, which included pay stubs, payment report ...


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