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Woodward v. Woodward

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

August 20, 2019

ROBERT WOODWARD, Appellant
v.
SHARON WOODWARD, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 246th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2016-43632

          Panel consists of Justices Wise, Zimmerer, and Spain.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Charles A. Spain Justice

         In this case involving a divorce with children, appellant Robert Woodward and appellee Sharon Woodward executed binding, irrevocable mediated settlement agreements (MSAs) pursuant to the Family Code and filed them with the trial court. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.0071(d) (Supp.). The parties were entitled to judgment on the MSAs, and the trial court granted them an "MSA judgment." See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.0071(e) (Supp.). The trial court later signed a final decree of divorce that did not conform to the parties' MSA and subsequently modified the final divorce decree on Sharon's motion for judgment nunc pro tunc. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 316, 329b(f). Robert brings four related issues, arguing: (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to sign the decree nunc pro tunc that made substantive changes to the final divorce decree after the court lost plenary power; (2) the change granted in the decree nunc pro tunc corrected a judicial instead of a clerical error; (3) the trial court abused its discretion and committed reversible error in granting the decree nunc pro nunc; and (4) the trial court improperly admitted certain of Sharon's exhibits at the hearing on the motion for judgment nunc pro tunc. We affirm the trial court's final decree of divorce nunc pro tunc as challenged.

         I. Background

         Sharon and Robert married in 1999 and have two minor children. In 2016, Sharon filed a petition for divorce from Robert; Robert filed a counterpetition. Because this suit involves conservatorship, access to, and support of the children, it is a SAPCR, i.e., a suit affecting the parent-child relationship. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 101.032(a). The parties signed a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) regarding their children on February 16, 2017 and filed it with the trial court. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.0071(d-e). They signed another MSA regarding their property on March 1, 2017 and filed it with the trial court. See id. In pertinent part, this MSA provided that Robert was to receive all property listed on the attached exhibit A, which expressly included $50, 000 of Sharon's 401(k) as of March 1, 2017. The exhibit further stated: "Husband is awarded a lump sum of $50, 000, regardless of market fluctuation."

         On May 1, 2017, the trial court held a prove-up hearing. The record does not contain a transcript of this hearing. The judge's docket-sheet notation states: "Uncontested Divorce. W present w/atty. H's atty present. Amicus present. MSA judgment granted per In re Stephanie Lee and TFC 153.0071. Divorce granted. Entry 5/10/17."

         On May 11, 2017, the trial court signed the agreed final decree of divorce, which awarded Robert $100, 000 of Sharon's 401(k). The decree referenced the MSAs: "The agreements in this Final Decree of Divorce were reached in mediation . . . on February 16, 2017 (for the child portion) and March 1, 2017 (for the property portion). This Final Decree of Divorce is stipulated to represent a merger of a mediated settlement agreement between the parties." In addition, the decree stated: "To the extent there exist any differences between the mediated settlement agreement and this Final Decree of Divorce, this Final Decree of Divorce shall control in all instances." Neither party filed a post-trial motion to modify, correct, or reform the judgment. The trial court lost plenary power as of June 11, 2017. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 329b(d).

         Robert subsequently presented Sharon with a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)[1] that awarded Robert $100, 000 of Sharon's 401(k).[2] Sharon then filed a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc, arguing that the final divorce decree contained a clerical error causing the distribution of the marital estate to be erroneously divided in a manner not in compliance with the MSA and asking the trial court to correct the clerical error. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 316, 329b(f). Robert filed a response in which he argued that the trial court could not change the decree because it would be correcting a judicial error.

         At the hearing, the trial court indicated to the parties that it intended to grant Sharon's motion. Robert offered and the trial court admitted his responsive brief. Sharon also offered various documents, to some of which Robert stipulated and to some of which he objected. The trial court admitted all of Sharon's exhibits.

         On December 15, 2017, the trial court signed a final decree of divorce nunc pro tunc, which awarded Robert $50, 000 of Sharon's 401(k) as his property. Robert did not file a motion for reconsideration or a request for findings of fact and conclusions of law. Robert timely appealed. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 329b(h).

         A. Applicable law

         1. MSAs

         The Family Code has a provision governing MSAs in SAPCRs. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.0071(d-e).[3] An MSA meeting the Family Code's requirements is irrevocable and binding on the parties. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.0071(d) (must include prominent display of irrevocability and be signed by parties and any party attorney who is present); In re Lee, 411 S.W.3d 445, 451-52, 458, 461 (Tex. 2013) (orig. proceeding).[4] A party is "entitled to judgment" on an MSA that meets the statutory requirements "notwithstanding Rule 11, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, or another rule of law." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.0071(e); In re Lee, 411 S.W.3d at 447, 452-53, 461. As long as the trial court is within its ...


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