Opinions, March 7, 2017: Googling for Child Support Evidence

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals released a published opinion, Reagins v. Walker, No. 14-15-00764-CV, concerning the sufficiency of evidence to set child support, and a memorandum opinion in Parker v. Parker, No. 14-16-00098-CV, regarding DWOPs. Incidentally, the briefs of both appellants were filed pro se.

In Reagins v. Walker, the father appealed the trial court’s order modifying his child support because he alleged there was insufficient evidence presented to establish his net resources. Reagins did not show for his trial. The only witness called was Walker. No exhibits were offered into evidence. Walker testified that she had not been provided any documents regarding Reagins’ income such as paystubs or tax returns. She testified that she did online research and determined that Reagins was a petroleum engineer with at least one master’s degree. She further testified that she “investigated” what a petroleum engineer might make with his experience and “found a range of between $127,000 to $130,000.” She testified she believed he made a minimum of $127, 000/yr. She testified that Reagins’ two other children attend private school and what she stated was the tuition at that private school. She testified that Reagins had not provided her with information concerning his health insurance coverage. The trial court entered a child support order based off Walker’s testimony.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed with Reagins that the trial court lacked sufficient evidence to calculate his net resources. “Walker’s generalized testimony based on internet searches was not sufficient to support the net resources calculation.” Even though Reagins did not appear for trial, Walker was still required to prove her case. The opinion appears to leave open the possibility that Walker’s internet research may have been sufficient, if it and her testimony had been more detailed or tailored to Reagins’ employment:

In that brief testimony, Walker admitted to having to resort to internet searches to get any information regarding Reagins’ employment. She did not, however, offer any specifics regarding the types of searches she conducted “on the Internet,” what search engines she may have used, or what websites she visited to obtain the information provided. She did not provide any specifics about Reagins’ employer, his position with the company, whether that work was on a full-time, part-time, or contract basis, or whether his job description was petroleum engineer.

The Court of Appeals, in fact, underlined this point:

The defect in this testimony is not the fact that it was based on internet research. The problem here is that Walker merely speculated regarding what Reagins might make based on general information she obtained on the internet.

The COA reversed and remanded on the child support issue. (Reagins’ second issue was that he had ineffective assistance of counsel, but that only applies in criminal cases and parental termination cases)

In Parker v. Parker, Eric Parker was incarcerated when he filed for divorce from his wife. He also filed a bench warrant requesting to be present for the divorce proceedings or, alternatively, to proceed by conference call. The trial court set the case for trial and provided notice of the date to Eric. The trial court issued an order denying the request of personal appearance but allowing him to appear by telephone. The trial court dismissed his case for want of prosecution on the trial date. The order of dismissal stated that the case was dismissed because there was no announcement by attorneys or parties and because there had been no service of process on the wife. Eric appealed the dismissal, arguing that appearance by telephone was insufficient and violated his due process rights because does not have independent access to a telephone. “Here, appellant got what he requested — the ability to participate telephonically — and there is no evidence in the record suggesting that he was in any way prevented from telephonically appearing for his trial.” The issue was overruled and the dismissal was affirmed.

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