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Broussard v. Arnel

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

December 31, 2019

ERIN BROUSSARD, Appellant
v.
ROY ARNEL, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 328th District Court Fort Bend County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 16-DCV-233665

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Keyes and Hightower.

          OPINION

          Evelyn V. Keyes, Justice.

         In this suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR), Erin Broussard appeals the trial court's modification order designating Roy Arnel sole managing conservator of their child, I.A. In four issues, [1] Broussard challenges the trial court's order denying her plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to render its modification order due to I.A.'s emancipation by marriage during the pendency of the modification suit.

         We conclude that the trial court did not err in denying Broussard's plea to the jurisdiction, and, accordingly, we affirm the trial court's modification order.

         Background

         Broussard and Arnel were divorced after fourteen years of marriage on July 20, 2010. The divorce decree named the parties joint managing conservators of their two minor children, I.A. and K.A., and gave Broussard the exclusive right to designate the children's primary residence.

         On July 5, 2016, Arnel filed a petition to modify. The petition, as amended, sought the exclusive right to designate the children's primary residence. Trial began in June 2017, but was continued several times.

         On October 22, 2017, while trial was in recess, Broussard reported to her counsel that I.A. had run away. Then on November 6, 2017, Broussard filed a plea to the jurisdiction, informing the court and Arnel that I.A.-who was 15 years old at the time-had traveled to Missouri three days earlier and married a 26-year-old woman. Broussard contended that, as a result of the marriage, I.A. was now emancipated and thus was no longer subject to her control or the trial court's SAPCR jurisdiction. She acknowledged that the marriage is void under Texas law, but argued she that the trial court should recognize it nonetheless because it is legal and valid under Missouri law, which, at the time, permitted the marriage of a 15-year-old with parental consent. Broussard argued that Missouri law applies to determine the validity of I.A.'s marriage, and, in the alternative, that the trial court should recognize the Missouri marriage under the principles of comity and the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution. See U.S. Const. art. IV § 1.

         Arnel filed a response, stating that, at the time of the marriage, the parties were under temporary orders requiring Broussard to consult with him before making significant decisions affecting I.A. He argued that Texas law applies to determine the validity of I.A.'s marriage and asked the trial court to declare the marriage void under Family Code section 6.205, which states that a marriage to which either party is under the age of 18 is void "unless a court order removing the disabilities of minority of the party for general purposes has been obtained in this state or in another state." See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.205. Arnel argued that because I.A. had not obtained a court order-in Texas or Missouri-removing the disabilities of his minority, he was not legally married under Texas law. See id.; see also id. § 2.003 ("A person under 18 years of age may not marry unless the person has been granted by this state or another state a court order removing the disabilities of minority of the person for general purposes."). He also argued that neither comity nor full faith and credit requires recognition of a marriage that is void as against Texas public policy.

         On November 30, 2017, the trial court held a hearing on Broussard's plea to the jurisdiction. After hearing argument, the trial court orally denied Broussard's plea and found that the marriage was void. The court issued emergency temporary orders giving Arnel exclusive decision-making authority regarding I.A. and requiring Broussard to cooperate with police in the investigation of I.A.'s whereabouts.

         On December 15, 2017, Broussard filed a "motion for reconsideration and new trial" on her plea to the jurisdiction. In it, she stated that she consented to I.A.'s marriage after he contacted her and told her that if she did not consent she would never see him again.

         On December 18, 2017, the trial court signed an order denying Broussard's plea to the jurisdiction, declaring I.A.'s marriage void under Texas law and against "good morals and natural justice," and declining to extend the marriage full faith and credit, "as such recognition would be in violation of established Texas public policy."

         On January 5, 2018, Broussard filed a mandamus petition with this Court. She argued that the trial court abused its discretion by refusing to recognize I.A.'s Missouri marriage in violation of the principles of comity and by denying her parental right to consent to her son's marriage in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. This Court denied the mandamus petition without substantive opinion on October 16, 2018.

         Trial of Arnel's modification suit resumed on April 30, 2018 and concluded on July 2, 2018. On July 3, 2018, the trial court rendered judgment appointing Arnel sole managing conservator and Broussard possessory conservator of I.A.

         On July 31, 2018, Broussard filed a motion for new trial, attaching as an exhibit a Missouri circuit court judgment, rendered on February 15, 2018, in a declaratory judgment action brought by I.A.'s wife. The Missouri judgment states that the marriage "entered into on November 3, 2017 was, and continues to remain, valid pursuant to the laws of the State of Missouri, including, but not limited to any and all statutory requirements set forth in Section 451 [Revised Statutes of Missouri] governing the validity of a Missouri marriage." This was the first time Broussard had brought this judgment to the trial court's attention.[2] Broussard argued that the trial court's declaration that the marriage was void violated the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution. Specifically, she argued that she was "attempting to have the Court recognize the marriage-not enforce it-and by recognizing the valid marriage the Court would be required to dismiss the case due to lack of jurisdiction (i.e. it did not have jurisdiction over the Missouri citizen [whom I.A. married])."

         Arnel filed a response, arguing, among other things, that the trial court should not consider the Missouri judgment because it was not authenticated. On August 9, 2018, after a non-evidentiary hearing, the trial court orally denied Broussard's motion for new trial.

         Broussard appeals the trial court's denial of her plea to the jurisdiction.

         Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         Broussard argues that the trial court erred in denying her plea to the jurisdiction because I.A.'s Missouri marriage divested the trial court of subject-matter jurisdiction. Specifically, she argues that (1) I.A. was emancipated by his Missouri marriage; (2) Texas law does not apply to determine the validity of I.A.'s Missouri marriage; (3) I.A. was married in accordance with Texas law; and (4) Texas must recognize I.A.'s marriage as valid under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution.

         A. Standard of Review ...


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