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In re A.J.P.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso

January 10, 2020

IN THE INTEREST OF A.J.P., A CHILD.

          Appeal from the 383rd District Court of El Paso County, Texas (TC# 2000CM5805)

          Before Alley, C.J., Rodriguez, and Palafox, JJ.

          OPINION

          GINA M. PALAFOX, JUSTICE

         This is an appeal from an agreed Order Enforcing Child Support and Medical Support Obligation (Enforcement Order). Appellant Andrew McRae (Father), appearing pro se, contends that the Enforcement Order is void because he agreed to it under duress. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2016, a court ordered Father to pay monthly child support and medical support for A.J.P. yet Father admittedly failed to fulfill these obligations. The Office of the Attorney General of Texas (Attorney General)[1] filed a motion to enforce the support orders, alleging that Father was in arrears and that it was anticipated that he would continue to violate the support orders.

         The matter came before an associate judge, who signed a proposed order which was later approved and adopted as the Enforcement Order of the district court. That order recites that a hearing was conducted on November 2, 2017; Mother appeared in person; Father appeared in person and through his court-appointed attorney; and the parties waived a record of the proceedings, with the consent of the court. The order contains the signatures of both Mother and Father, and the parties characterize it as an agreed order.

         In addition to imposing child support and medical support payment obligations, the Enforcement Order recites that Father is found in contempt and ordered to be incarcerated for a period of 120 days. The Enforcement Order further recites, though, that the incarceration provision is suspended, and that Father is placed on probation for a period of 120 months. Father appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         In a single issue, Father asserts that the Enforcement Order is void because he agreed to it under duress.

         Standard of Review

         "A court's order of child support will not be disturbed on appeal unless the complaining party can show a clear abuse of discretion." Worford v. Stamper, 801 S.W.2d 108, 109 (Tex. 1990). A trial court abuses its discretion if its decision is arbitrary and unreasonable, or if it is made without regard for guiding legal principles or supporting evidence. In re Nationwide Ins. Co., 494 S.W.3d 708, 712 (Tex. 2016). A trial court also abuses its discretion if it fails to analyze or apply the law correctly. Id.

         Generally, duress occurs where any coercion, whether mental, physical, or otherwise, is exercised which causes another person to act contrary to his or her own free will or to submit to a situation or a condition against his or her own volition or interest. Doe v. Catholic Diocese of El Paso, 362 S.W.3d 707, 719 (Tex. App.-El Paso 2011, no pet.). The question of what conduct or occurrence constitutes duress is a matter of law. Id. Whether duress exists in a particular situation, however, is generally a question of fact, which depends on all the circumstances and the mental effect on the party claiming duress. Id. at 719-20.

         No ...


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