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Mansfield v. Mansfield

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

October 9, 2019

James Brent MANSFIELD, Appellant
v.
Stormie Rae MANSFIELD, Appellee

          From the 166th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2017-CI-17710 Honorable Stephani A. Walsh, Judge Presiding

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice

         James Brent Mansfield ("Brent") appeals a final decree of divorce. In his first issue on appeal, Brent contends the trial court erred in including the monthly payments he receives from a pre-marital structured settlement annuity in the amount of his net resources. In his second and third issues, Brent contends the trial court erred in calculating the amount of child support and medical support he was ordered to pay. Finally, Brent contends the trial court erred in awarding conditional appellate attorney's fees to the appellee. We affirm.

         Background

         In 2010, Brent was involved in a work-related accident. In 2014, Brent entered into a settlement agreement with his employer. As part of the settlement, Brent's employer paid a structured settlement company $1, 750, 000 which the structured settlement company used to purchase a Single Premium Annuity Contract. Under the terms of the annuity contract, Brent receives $6, 970 per month. The payments began on July 1, 2014, and end on the later of: (1) the date of Brent's death; or (2) June 1, 2044 (360 months). The structured settlement company is the owner of the annuity contract.

         Brent and Stormie were married on November 12, 2016, and they had one daughter, A.M., who was born on June 16, 2017. On September 14, 2017, Stormie filed the underlying divorce proceeding. The only issues upon which the parties did not agree and that were submitted to the trial court for a decision were whether and what amount of child support and medical support the parties would be ordered to pay.

         On April 10, 2018, the trial court held a hearing on temporary orders and concluded the annuity payments received by Brent were resources under section 154.062 of the Texas Family Code.[1] In entering the final divorce decree, the trial court also included the annuity payments in Brent's resources for purposes of calculating the child support and medical support the trial court ordered Brent to pay.

         Inclusion of Structured Settlement Annuity in Net Resources

         In his first issue, Brent contends the trial court erred in calculating his net resources to include the monthly annuity payments. In his second and third issues, Brent contends that if the trial court erred in including the monthly annuity payments in calculating his net resources, then the trial court erred in calculating the amount of child support and medical support Brent was ordered to pay.

         Generally, we review issues regarding child support and medical support under an abuse of discretion standard. See Ochsner v. Ochsner, 517 S.W.3d 717, 721 (Tex. 2016); Alvarez v. Alvarez, No. 04-13-00787-CV, 2015 WL 1938700, at *1 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Apr. 29, 2015, no pet.) (mem. op.); Brendel v. Brendel, No. 04-08-00883-CV, 2009 WL 3789604, at *9 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Nov. 11, 2009, no pet.) (mem. op.). However, "[a] trial court has no 'discretion' in determining what the law is or applying the law to the facts." Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 840 (Tex. 1992). Whether the annuity payments in this case are included in the statutory definition of "resources" under section 154.062 of the Texas Family Code presents an issue of statutory construction which is a question of law that we review de novo. Colorado County v. Staff, 510 S.W.3d 435, 444 (Tex. 2017).

         "When construing a statute, our primary objective is to give effect to the Legislature's intent." Id. "We seek that intent 'first and foremost' in the statutory text." Id. "Where text is clear, text is determinative." Ochsner, 517 S.W.3d at 720. "[C]ourts must construe [a] statute's words according to their plain meaning because changing the meaning of [a] statute by adding words to it . . . is a legislative function, not a judicial function." Ferreira v. Butler, 575 S.W.3d 331, 337 (Tex. 2019) (internal quotation marks omitted). Stated differently, "[w]e cannot rewrite [a] statute under the guise of interpreting it." In re Ford Motor Co., 442 S.W.3d 265, 284 (Tex. 2014). Accordingly, a court's interpretation of a statute must be one that "'expresses only the will of the makers of the law, not forced nor strained, but simply such as the words of the law in their plain sense fairly sanction and will clearly sustain.'" Ferreira, 575 S.W.3d at 337 (quoting Simmons v. Arnim, 110 Tex. 309, 220 S.W. 66, 70 (1920)).

         In resolving Brent's first three issues, we must construe the statutory definition of "resources" in section 154.062 to determine if the trial court erred in including the monthly annuity payments in Brent's resources for purposes of calculating the amount of child support and medical support the trial court ordered Brent to pay. Under section 154.062, the term "resources" is defined to include "all other income actually being received, including . . . annuities . . . ." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 154.062(b)(5). However, "[r]esources do not include return of principal or capital." Id. § 154.062(c)(1).

         In arguing the trial court erred in including the monthly annuity payment as resources, Brent primarily relies on the Waco court's decision in In re A.A.G., 303 S.W.3d 739 (Tex. App.- Waco 2009, no pet.).[2] In that case, "[t]he trial court excluded monies received from an annuity created from the proceeds of a personal injury settlement by creating a distinction between an annuity and a settlement annuity for purposes of determining net resources under Texas Family Code Section 154.062." Id. at 740. After reviewing the dictionary definition of "annuity," the Waco court noted "there are multiple definitions of an annuity," and "there are also many types of annuities for different purposes." Id. at 741. The Waco court then reviewed the dictionary definition of "principal" and stated the issue presented was whether the ...


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