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In re Marriage of Lewis

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

January 3, 2020


          Date Submitted: December 9, 2019

          On Appeal from the County Court at Law Bowie County, Texas Trial Court No. 18-D-0158-CCL

          Before Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.


          Ralph K. Burgess Justice.

         As a result of Angela Lynn Lewis's petition for divorce from her husband, Martin Paul Lewis, the trial court granted a "no-fault" divorce in accordance with Section 6.001 of the Texas Family Code. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.001. In dividing community property, the trial court (1) awarded each party their own retirement accounts and two horses, (2) awarded Martin a Ford Fusion and the "cheaper of the two horse trailers," (3) awarded Angela a "2007 truck" and the "more expensive of the two horse trailers," and (4) assigned responsibility for any debts associated with the property they were awarded. In addition, the trial court found Martin responsible for Internal Revenue Service (IRS) debt associated with early withdrawals from his retirement account, which he secreted from Angela and failed to report on their joint tax return. However, the court ordered the parties to split the fees for the certified public accountant (CPA) who assisted Angela in receiving innocent spouse relief from the IRS.

         On appeal, Angela argues that the trial court erred in failing to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law and that its division of community property was inequitable because (1) Angela should have received half of the remaining balance of Martin's retirement account since he made early withdrawals from the account, (2) Martin should have been required to pay all of the CPA's fees, (3) Angela should have been awarded the Ford Focus, and (4) the trial court should have found Martin liable for tax delinquencies for every year of their marriage. We find that the lack of findings of fact and conclusions of law did not result in harmful error and that the trial court's division of community property was not an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. The Evidence at Trial

         Martin and Angela married in 2004. In 2011 or 2012, Martin retired from his job at Fay-J Packaging, where he had worked since approximately 1987. At the time of his retirement, the value of his retirement annuity was $234, 000.00. Unbeknownst to Angela, Martin began withdrawing sums from his retirement account to pay for rent, pay a $15, 000.00 loan and other debts, build a barn, buy horses, and purchase pest control equipment to start his own business. Martin testified that he continued to withdraw money even when he was working because he could not cover the bills. Angela testified that Martin transferred hundreds of dollars into their joint account to pay household bills and expenses associated with the care of their four horses. Angela also testified that Martin built a barn on property that they were renting, which cost $2, 300.00 in materials. By the time of trial, Martin had drawn his retirement account "down to about [$]50, 000."

         Martin admitted that he hid the withdrawals from his retirement account from Angela, that he did not report them on joint tax returns for several years, and that as a result, the parties owed the IRS approximately $20, 000.00. Although their tax returns were always filed jointly, Angela testified that she had never signed a tax return since the beginning of their marriage. Angela also testified that she was shocked when she discovered notices of deficiencies from the IRS for 2008, 2012, and 2014.

         After their separation in 2017, Angela met with Robby Selph, a CPA, who filed for and obtained innocent spouse status from the IRS for Angela for 2008, 2012, and 2014. Selph testified that Angela also received a deficiency notice for tax year 2015 and was in the process of obtaining innocent spouse status for that year. He informed the trial court of a proposed delinquency for 2016, which had not yet been assessed, and said that Angela would file her 2017 tax return separately. Angela's bill for Selph's services was $3, 000.00, and she testified that she wished for Martin to pay those fees.

         Although Selph testified that Angela received no benefit from the funds withdrawn from Martin's retirement account, the evidence from Martin and Angela showing that Martin contributed to household bills showed otherwise. In addition to that evidence, Martin also testified that he sent money to Angela after their separation for horse feed, shoeing, and veterinarian bills for the horses, including one bill totaling $2, 000.00. Angela admitted that Martin was no longer living in their rental home and that she was benefitting from the barn on the rental property. Notably, there was no evidence showing that the $180, 000.00 withdrawn from the retirement account benefited Martin's separate estate as opposed to the community estate.

         Angela asked the trial court to award her one-half of the balance in Martin's retirement account after he paid the IRS deficiencies. Angela also testified that she had worked during the entire marriage and that taxes were withdrawn from her paycheck. There was no testimony as to whether Martin or Angela made more money or who had accrued more money in their retirement accounts. She was employed by DeKalb Physicians Clinic for the past three and a half years, had worked for Dr. Michael Saldino for six years before that, and was employed by other doctors and James Bowie Independent School District before that.

         When asked about division of other property, Martin testified that he would like to have one of the vehicles that was parked on the rental property occupied by Angela, one of the two horse trailers, and horses Deacon and Boss.[1] When asked about the vehicles parked on the rental property, Angela testified that there was a Ford Fusion and a Dodge truck, prompting the following discussion:

Q. You said you have a Ford truck. What model is it?
A. Mine is a Dodge.
Q. A Dodge truck, I'm sorry.
A. Mine is a ...

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