Short-Fused Deadlines for Findings

This blog usually reviews recent Texas family law appellate cases, but today we are going to highlight three short-fused deadlines for findings that can be important to the appeal of family law cases involving children (Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship, or “SAPCRs”). These deadlines begin from the date of a hearing, not from the date an order is signed. These deadlines usually have passed by the time an appellate attorney is retained.

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Child Support Findings

Child support is set by reference to the child support guidelines. Texas Family Code section 154.130(b) requires a trial court, on request, to find the amount of the obligor’s and obligee’s net resources, the percentage applied to the obligor’s net resources for child support, and (if applicable) the specific reasons that the amount of child support varies from the guidelines. These findings can be helpful on appeal. But section 154.130(a) requires that a request for these findings must be made within ten days of the date of the child support hearing.*

Terms & Conditions of Possession

The Standard Possession Order is presumed to be in a child’s best interest. However, a trial court may depart from the Standard Possession Order. If a trial court orders possession under terms and conditions that vary from the Standard Possession Order, the court must, on request, make findings setting forth the specific reasons for the variance. This request must be made within ten days of the hearing. Tex. Fam. Code ยง 153.258.

Possession Under Three Years Old

The Standard Possession Order applies to children three years of age or older. If a child is under three years of age, Texas Family Code section 153.254 requires the trial court to render “an order appropriate under the circumstances” for possession of the child. The section lists a number of factors for the court to consider. Section 153.254(b) requires the court to make findings in support of its order provided that a request is made not later than ten days after the hearing.

Appealing Without Findings

Failing to request findings is not fatal to an appeal. However, without findings, a trial court’s decision will be affirmed on any basis supported by the record. With findings, the first question is whether the record supports the findings; the second question is whether the findings support the order. In short, findings give an appellate lawyer more to work with when attempting to reverse a trial court’s order varying from the child support guidelines or the Standard Possession Order, or an order stating what the possession schedule will be for children under three years old.
* Section 154.130(a)(3) allows a request for findings to be made whenever the trial court orders non-guideline support, without reference to a deadline, but one would not necessarily know whether the court was ordering guideline or non-guideline support without asking for findings.

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