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Mason v. Mason

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

November 7, 2018

ALICIA DAWN MASON
v.
ROBERT MASON

         APPEAL FROM THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF CATAHOULA, NO. 18, 948 HONORABLE JOHN C. REEVES, DISTRICT JUDGE.

          Philip A. LeTard, Sr. Attorney at Law Counsel for Defendant/Appellant: Robert Mason

          Brandy McClure Attorney at Law Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee: Alicia Dawn Mason

          Court composed of Billy Howard Ezell, Phyllis M. Keaty, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges.

          PHYLLIS M. KEATY JUDGE.

         Former husband filed a motion to enforce a provision of his divorce judgment giving him a portion of his former wife's retirement. Former wife opposed the motion, arguing that they had entered into a subsequent oral agreement whereby former husband relinquished his interest in her retirement in exchange for her dismissal of an action against him to collect past-due child support. Following a hearing, the trial court rendered judgment denying former husband's motion. Former husband now appeals. Finding no manifest error in the trial court's ruling, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Robert Mason and Alicia Dawn Mason, now Alicia Dawn Ford (Ms. Ford), were married on August 24, 1979, and divorced on June 1, 1995. The two children born of the marriage were minors when their parents divorced. The divorce judgment ordered Mr. Mason to pay Ms. Ford child support in the amount of $150.00 per child per month and to reimburse Ms. Ford for one-half of the children's medical, dental, and medication bills not covered by the hospitalization insurance she maintained for them. The judgment further provided that Ms. Ford's retirement would be divided with Mr. Mason according to the formula set forth in Sims v. Sims, 358 So.2d 919 (La.1978).

         On June 25, 2014, Mr. Mason filed a motion requesting that Ms. Ford be ordered to show cause why her retirement account should not be shared with him as per the terms of their judgment of divorce. A hearing on Mr. Mason's motion took place on March 7, 2016, at which time evidence was presented and the trial court heard the testimony of Ms. Ford; Ms. Ford's mother, Emma Jean Seal (Ms. Seal);[1] and Mr. Mason. By judgment dated June 3, 2016, the trial court denied Mr. Mason's motion, declaring that: "Mr. Mason is not entitled to any portion of Alicia Dawn Ford's retirement." Mr. Mason filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court denied after a hearing. Mr. Mason now appeals, asserting that the trial court erred: 1) in denying his claim to a portion of Ms. Ford's retirement benefits; 2) in accepting the testimony of Ms. Ford and Ms. Seal as proof that he and Ms. Ford entered into a subsequent and valid verbal agreement modifying their divorce judgment; and 3) "by not considering the unjust enrichment of such an agreement." Mr. Mason's first assigned error goes to the heart of this appeal and will be determined by considering the merits of his second and third assigned error.

         DISCUSSION

The trial court's factual findings will not be disturbed on appeal absent manifest error. Moreover, the trial court's reasonable evaluations of credibility and inferences of fact will not be disturbed on review, even though the appellate court may believe its own evaluations and inferences are as reasonable. Rosell v. ESCO, 549 So.2d 840 (La.1989); Monroe v. Physicians Behavioral Hosp., LLC, 49, 248 (La.App.2d Cir.8/13/14), 147 So.3d 787. The trial court reconciles conflicting evidence. The reviewing court does not determine whether the trial court was right or wrong, but whether its factual conclusions are reasonable in light of the record as a whole. Stobart v. State, through DOTD, 617 So.2d 880 (La.1993).

Schindler Elevator Corp. v. Long Prop. Holdings, L.L.C., 50, 199, pp. 11-12 (La.App. 2 Cir. 11/18/15), 182 So.3d 233, 240.

When findings are based on determinations regarding the credibility of witnesses, the manifest error-clearly wrong standard demands great deference to the trier of fact's findings; for only the factfinder can be aware of the variations in demeanor and tone of voice that bear so heavily on the listener's understanding and belief in what is said.

Rosell, 549 So.2d at 844. The Louisiana Supreme Court has gone so far as to declare that "[w]here the factfinder's determination is based on its decision to credit the testimony of one of two or more witnesses, that finding can virtually never be manifestly erroneous." Snider v. La. Med. Mut. ...


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