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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Jarrod Gottfried and Heather Chambless, who are the parents of one daughter, were divorced in August 2004. Under the terms of the final decree, Gottfried was ordered to pay Chambless $860 per month in child support beginning Aug. 1, 2004. Then, 15 months later, Chambless filed a motion for enforcement of child support, requesting that Gottfried be held in contempt of court for failing to pay her $6,441 in child support. Gottfried answered, denying that he owed any past due support. After a hearing, the trial court found an arrearage for half the amount sought by Chambless and ordered Gottfried to pay her attorneys’ fees. Only Gottfried appealed. HOLDING:The 4th Court of Appeals reversed the child-support arrearage judgment and rendered a take-nothing judgment. Texas Family Code ��157.001 and 157.263, the court stated, provide procedures for enforcement of child support payments including requesting a money judgment for arrearages. At trial, the court stated, the movant bears the burden of establishing the amount owed while the respondent may offer controverting evidence. The final money judgment may be subject to an offset or counterclaim. In three issues, Gottfried claimed that the trial court abused its discretion in confirming the arrearage because: 1. Chambless did not testify or offer other proof of child support arrearage at the hearing; 2. he was not credited for amounts that he paid directly to the child’s day care; and 3. the trial court should have applied the doctrines of estoppel and laches. The court overruled Gottfried’s first issue, noting that Gottfried testified as an adverse witness, acknowledged that the divorce decree ordered him to pay Chambless $860 per month in child support and conceded that he had not made the payments in the manner specified by the divorce decree. With respect to his second issue, Gottfried testified that he and Chambless had a verbal agreement that he would pay $460 per month directly to their daughter’s day care and the remaining $400 to Chambless on a monthly basis. In addition, Gottfried testified that: he had been paying the day care directly since before he and Chambless divorced; Chambless never objected to the arrangement; Chambless’ attorney advised Gottfried by telephone not to claim the day care payment on his taxes or it would be considered a gift; and Chambless did claim the day care payments for income tax purposes. Gottfried submitted 15 receipts from the day care showing total payments made by him in the amount of $6,566. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court noted that the trial court did not award Chambless the full amount of arrearages she sought. Rather, the trial court found that Gottfried owed only $3,220, or half of the amount claimed by Chambless. On one hand, the court stated that such a result implied the trial court found that a verbal agreement existed between Gottfried and Chambless authorizing Gottfried to pay the $460 per month in child support directly to their daughter’s day care. On the other hand, the court stated it was “perplexed” as to why the trial court found an arrearage of $3,220, because the evidence as to the amounts Gottfried paid the day care was undisputed. In fact, the evidence showed that he paid the day care $6,566, which was more than the alleged $6,441 arrearage. Accordingly, the court found that the trial court’s implied finding of an agreement could only have resulted in an arrearage of zero. Gottfried maintained that, based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the trial court should have applied the equitable doctrine of estoppel or quasi-estoppel to bar Chambless from recovering the $3,220 as an arrearage. Quasi-estoppel, the court stated, applies when it would be unconscionable to allow a person to maintain a position inconsistent with the one in which he acquiesced or accepted a benefit. Although a parent may always voluntarily provide more support for a child than is required by court order, the court found nothing in the record to support a conclusion that Gottfried intended for the day care payments to be in addition to his court-ordered support payments. In fact, the court noted, uncontroverted evidence showed that Chambless herself benefited by claiming the day care expenses on her taxes. Thus, the court held that Gottfried established the requisite elements to prove his affirmative defense of quasi-estoppel. OPINION:Lopez, C.J., and Speedlin, J. DISSENT:Simmons, J. “My chief objection with the majority . . . rests in the disposition of this case. Having found that the trial court abused its discretion, the majority renders a take nothing judgment. Such a disposition requires a holding that Gottfried conclusively established his affirmative defense of estoppel. In other words, the evidence in support of estoppel was so strong that reasonable minds could draw only one conclusion from the evidence. . . . The record does not support such a holding. . . . “Although estoppel or quasi-estoppel principles may apply to the facts in this case, the evidence is not conclusive. There is no implied finding that an agreement existed between the parties and we cannot substitute our judgment for that of the fact finder. The fact Chambless did not complain that Gottfried paid the day care, rather than Chambless directly, does not conclusively establish quasi-estoppel. The child support order in place specifically ordered the child support payments be paid to Chambless. There is no conclusive evidence Chambless affirmatively misled Gottfried.”

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