Parties to a Texas divorce may enter into a Rule 11 agreement to resolve issues in their case. The agreement must be made in open court and entered into the record, or be in writing, signed, and filed with the court. A Rule 11 agreement must be complete in material details and contain all of the essential elements of the agreement. It is an abuse of discretion for a court to enter a judgment that is not in compliance with material terms of the agreement. A mother recently appealed a final divorce decree that she claimed did not comply with the terms of the Rule 11 agreement.
Parties Enter into Rule 11 Agreement
According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties’ Rule 11 agreement provided they would be joint managing conservators of the two minor children, with the mother being primary for determining their residence with a geographic restriction. The father would continue picking up the daughter from school. The father would have a standard possession order for the son. The son had the option to have dinner at the father’s on Thursday. No alcohol was to be consumed during or for four hours prior to the father’s possession. Child support would be calculated according to the guidelines based on the father’s 2019 Schedule C “unless Schedule C gross receipts are higher for 2020 as filed.”
The parties both moved to enter the final decree, with the mother indicating they had not agreed regarding child support. At the hearing, she argued the parties intended child support to be calculated without subtracting expenses from the gross receipts if the 2020 gross receipts were higher. The father argued different language would have been used if that was the intent. He argued the language required the child support to be calculated according to the guidelines, which require calculation of net income before determining child support.
Final Decree Adopts Agreement – Mother Appeals
The final decree of divorce approved and incorporated the agreement.
The mother requested findings of fact and conclusions of law and moved to correct, reform or modify the decree. The motion was overruled by operation of law, and the mother appealed.
The appeals court noted that a trial court may sometimes alter the terms of a Rule 11 agreement, depending on the parties’ intent. The parties do not have to agree on all terms to effectuate the agreement, so the decree may include mechanisms to enforce the agreement that are consistent with the parties’ intent.
Parties Argue Over Certain Provisions in Rule 11 Agreement
The mother argued the trial court did not comply with the terms of the agreement in calculating child support.
The mother argued she had filed the 2019 Schedule C return with the court. The appeals court pointed out, however, that the parties agreed the gross receipts for 2020 had been higher, so the 2019 Schedule C return was irrelevant based on the agreement. The 2020 Schedule C return was not in the record.
The appeals court declined to determine which interpretation of the Rule 11 agreement was proper. The trial court stated its child support award was based on the father’s proposed decree. The trial court also found the agreement as to child support was in the best interest of the children. It abused its discretion in failing to follow the terms of the Rule 11 agreement.
The mother also argued the trial court abused its discretion in omitting the alcohol consumption provision from the decree. The father argued the provision was ambiguous because it did not identify the party who was prohibited from alcohol consumption.
The trial court had not found the provision was ambiguous. The mother’s petitions asked the court to enjoin the father from alcohol consumption during and within 12 hours before his possession. There was nothing in the record indicating the father had made a similar request regarding the mother. Additionally, it would not make sense to restrict the mother’s alcohol consumption only before and during the father’s possession. The appeals court held the alcohol consumption provision unambiguously prohibited the father from consuming alcohol during or four hours before his possession time.
The father argued the mother had not shown a need for the decree to prohibit alcohol consumption. The appeals court noted it was not aware of any case law that allowed a court to reject Rule 11 provisions that are unnecessary. The appeals court noted the trial court’s only discretion to vary from the terms of the agreement is if it finds they are not in the best interest of the children. The trial court found the agreement was in the children’s best interest, so it abused its discretion in not including the alcohol prohibition in the decree.
The mother also argued the trial court erred in requiring her to pick the children up from the father’s home if she moved outside the county. The appeals court noted the agreement did not address where the exchanges would happen. Additionally, the trial court found no evidence was presented to rebut the presumption that the provisions of Tex. Fam. Code 153.316 were in the children’s best interest. Pursuant to that section, if one parent moves out of the county where they both lived at the time of the decree, the other parent “shall surrender” the children at their own home. The appeals court found the trial court had not erred in including the general terms and conditions for exchanges to effectuate the agreement.
Appeals Court Partially Reverses and Remands
The appeals court concluded the mother waived the issue of the amount of possession and access the father was awarded. The appeals court also concluded she waived the issue of the award of the father’s business.
The appeals court reversed and remanded the portion of the decree that did not comply with the Rule 11 agreement, with instructions to the trial court to conform to the agreement regarding the child support calculation and alcohol consumption. The appeals court affirmed the rest of the decree.
Rule 11 Agreements are Integral Parts of Many Cases – Call McClure Law Group Today
Rule 11 agreements can be valuable tools in reaching an amicable and mutually benefit result in a divorce. It is important, however, for the parties to understand and actually agree on the terms. If you are hoping to have an amicable divorce, a skilled Dallas divorce attorney can advise you of your options. Contact McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 to set up a consultation.