Anatomy of a Texas Family Law Appeal - Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

In a prior post, we discussed findings when child support is at issue. But there is another type of findings: Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, per Rules 296 et seq. of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

Rule 296 states that a Request for Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law must be made within twenty days of the date the judge signed the decree, judgment or order being appealed.  

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law can be requested when a family law case is tried before a judge. They are not available if the case is submitted to a jury. But most Texas family law cases are tried to the bench, so whether to request findings is usually an issue to be considered when appealing the case.

When a trial court makes Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the appellate court inquires whether the findings support the judgment and whether there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the findings. When a family law appeal concerns parent–child issues other than child support, findings normally are not especially helpful to the appellate court because of the nature of these issues. The type of conservatorship ordered and times for possession and access are committed to the discretion of the trial court. A finding that, for example, the parents should be joint managing conservators adds nothing to the record because the appellate court still must consider the sufficiency of the evidence underlying the trial court's decision.

In addition to the findings allowed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, Texas Family Code section 6.711(a) specifically provides for findings when there are property issues:

(a) In a suit for dissolution of a marriage in which the court has rendered a judgment dividing the estate of the parties, on request by a party, the court shall state in writing its findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning:
(1) the characterization of each party's assets, liabilities, claims, and offsets on which disputed evidence has been presented;and
(2) the value or amount of the community estate's assets, liabilities, claims, and offsets on which disputed evidence has been presented.

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law on valuation and characterization can be very helpful to the party who appeals on those issues. Because the court is forced to specify values, one can determine what evidence, if any, the record contains to support those values. One also can determine the exact proportionate division of the community property, opening up a challenge to disproportionate division. Finally, the evidence can be reviewed on characterization issues.

Anatomy of a Texas Family Law Appeal - Child Support Findings

The first post of the Anatomy of a Family Law Appeal series made the point that positioning a case for appeal begins at trial and sometimes even before trial has begun. This post highlights the first post-trial deadline in cases in which the trial court sets the amount of child support. That deadline can be as short as ten days after the child-support hearing, regardless whether the trial court has ruled.

Section 154.130 of the Texas Family Code states that the trial court must make child support findings if:

(1) a party files a written request with the court not later than 10 days after the date of the hearing;

(2) a party makes an oral request in open court during the hearing; or

(3) the amount of child support ordered by the court varies from the amount computed by applying the percentage guidelines under Section 154.125 or 154.129, as applicable.[1]

If a party makes a timely request for child support findings, then the trial court must state whether application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate plus make the following findings:

(1) the net resources of the obligor per month are $______;

(2) the net resources of the obligee per month are $______;

(3) the percentage applied to the obligor's net resources for child support is ______%; and

(4) if applicable, the specific reasons that the amount of child support per month ordered by the court varies from the amount computed by applying the percentage guidelines under Section 154.125 or 154.129, as applicable.

When litigating the amount of child support, be sure to calendar ten days after trial to consider asking for child support findings.

[1] Sections 154.125 and 154.129 provide alternative methods by which to calculate "guideline" child support. For information about guideline child support, see Child Support Changes September 1.