Opinions, February 2, 2016

The First District Court of Appeals has released its published opinion in Trammell v. Trammell, No. 01-14-00629-CV.

Fletcher and Elizabeth had three children and divorced in 2011. Both parents are attorneys, though Elizabeth never practiced law. In 2011, when the couple divorced, Fletcher’s income as a personal injury attorney was about $800,000.00. Under the terms of their agreed decree, Fletcher was obligated to pay: 1) $6,000/mo in child support; 2) $8,000/mo in spousal support; and 3) 100% of the expenses related to the children’s education, summer camps, and other extra-curriculars. The parties also agreed that Elizabeth would have the exclusive right to make decisions concerning the children’s education and the  independent right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures as well as psychiatric and psychological treatment of the children. It appears Fletcher had a standard possession order.

In April 2014, Fletched filed a modification petition, requesting modification of support and the parties’ rights to make health and education decisions.  He alleged his income had drastically declined and that he had to incur significant debt to continue to pay his obligations under the decree. He also sought to be more involved in the children’s educational decisions. He testified that he attends the children’s activities on Elizabeth’s weekends and that his relationship with the children was the best it had ever been.

After trial, the 308th found there had been a material and substantial change and: 1) ordered Fletcher’s child support obligation reduced from $6,000 to guideline $2,565; 2) ordered Fletcher and Elizabeth pay 60% and 40%, respectively, of the children’s educational expenses; and 3) modified the parties’ health and educational decision-making rights to include Fletcher. The trial court retained the $8,000/mo spousal support, as well as Fletcher’s obligation to pay 100% of the children’s summer camp and extra-curricular expenses. The trial court signed findings of fact and conclusions of law on October 3, 2014.

On appeal, Elizabeth argued the trial court abused its discretion in decreasing the amount of Fletcher’s child support obligation and modifying her exclusive right to make decisions regarding the children’s education and to consent to medical, dental and surgical care involving invasive procedures as well as psychological and psychiatric treatment because the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the modifications.

On the child support challenge, the Court of Appeals recounted the evidence presented by Fletcher at trial regarding his shaky finances which was uncontroverted by Elizabeth. The COA found the evidence was sufficient to support the modification.

In second, third, and fourth issues, Elizabeth challenged the trial court’s order granting the parties equal rights to make decisions related to health and education of the children. At trial on the modification, Fletcher testified that during the pendency of the divorce, Elizabeth had severely restricted his access to the children, but that since the entry of the decree, he had exercised his possession and become involved in their lives. He further testified that sharing in the decisions would be in the best interest of the children. The COA found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding this sufficient evidence to support the modification.

The trial court’s order was affirmed.