Tuesday, May 13, 2008

He who represents himself ...

Pro se divorce litigant avoided spending money on a lawyer of his own, but ends up having to pay for wife's lawyer. Panel of Houston Court of Appeals - referring to family court judge as an institutional "it" (as is the custom) - approves.

Appellant Has Not Shown The Trial Court Abused Its Discretion When It Ordered Appellant To Pay Appellee's Attorney's Fees

Patterson v. Patterson (Tex.App. - Houston [14th Dist.] May 13, 2008) (Anderson) (divorce, attorney's fees as part of property division)

In his third issue, appellant contends the trial court abused its discretion when it awarded appellee her attorney's fees as part of the Final Decree of Divorce. In appellant's view, the trial court erred because appellee did not include a request for attorney's fees in any of her pleadings.
We review a trial court's award of attorney's fees for an abuse of discretion. Panozzo v. Panozzo, 904 S.W.2d 780, 785 (Tex. App.- Corpus Christi 1995, no writ). A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts arbitrarily, unreasonably, or without reference to any guiding principals. Worford v. Stamper, 801 S.W.2d 108, 109 (Tex. 1990).

A trial court may apportion attorney's fees in a divorce action as part of a just and right division of the property. Henry v. Henry, 48 S.W.3d 468, 480 (Tex. App. - Houston [14th Dist.] 2001, no pet.). Attorney's fees incurred by both spouses during the divorce are a factor to be considered by the trial court in making an equitable division of the marital estate. Carle v. Carle, 149 Tex. 469, 474, 234 S.W.2d 1002, 1005 (1950). The fact the final divorce decree in this case does not include the attorney fee award in the list of property awarded to appellee cannot be viewed as an indication the attorney's fees were not considered in the division. Murff v. Murff, 615 S.W.2d 696, 699 (Tex. 1981).

In her Original Petition for Divorce, appellee asked the trial court, in the event the parties could not agree on a property division, to divide the marital estate in a manner the trial court deemed just and right and as provided by law. In addition, in appellee's Original Answer to appellant's counterclaim, appellee asked for her attorney's fees as part of an equitable division of the estate or, alternatively, they be taxed as costs.

Pleadings are to be liberally construed in favor of the pleader, particularly when, as here, the complaining party did not obtain a ruling on his special exceptions. See Tull v. Tull, 159 S.W.3d 758, 762 (Tex. App.- Dallas 2005, no pet.). The purpose of the pleading is to give notice of the claim involved. Id. Appellee's pleadings adequately apprised appellant that appellee was seeking the recovery of her attorney's fees as part of her suit for divorce.[1] We overrule appellant's third issue.

Patterson v. Patterson (Tex.App. - Houston [14th Dist.] May 13, 2008) (Opinion by John Anderson)
(divorce, waiver of jury trial, local rules, attorney's fees)
Opinion by Justice John Anderson
14-07-00487-CV Richard Steven Patterson v. Gwendolyn Elizabeth Patterson
Appeal from 247th District Court of Harris County (Hon. Bonnie Crane Hellums)
Disposition: Affirmed

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