Finch v. Stegman, NO. 01-19-00109-CV

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
Writing for the CourtEvelyn V. Keyes Justice
PartiesROBERT FINCH II, Appellant v. ANGELA STEGMAN, Appellee
Decision Date06 August 2020
Docket NumberNO. 01-19-00109-CV


NO. 01-19-00109-CV

Court of Appeals For The First District of Texas

August 6, 2020

On Appeal from the 387th District Court Fort Bend County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 17-DCV-242295


Appellee, Angela Stegman, sued appellant, Robert Finch II, for divorce and asserted a claim for reimbursement. Finch answered, filed a counterpetition for divorce claiming that the parties had been informally married in 1998, prior to their formal marriage in 2009, and asserted a counterclaim for reimbursement. The

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parties' competing reimbursement claims concerned two houses purchased in Stegman's name in 1998 and 2007. After a bench trial, the trial court ruled that Finch and Stegman were married in 2009, denied Finch's claim that the parties were informally married before 2009, and confirmed that the houses were Stegman's separate property. The final divorce decree awarded Finch a portion of Stegman's retirement accounts and denied the parties' competing reimbursement claims. On appeal, Finch challenges: (1) the factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's finding that no informal marriage existed before 2009; (2) the trial court's denial of Finch's reimbursement claim; and (3) the trial court's division of the parties' retirement accounts.

We affirm.


Finch met Stegman in 1985 while they both lived in Michigan.1 They began dating in 1992 and Stegman moved in with Finch in 1993. Finch testified that he gave Stegman a ring in 1993 and asked her, "Would you be with me" or "Would you be my wife" while sitting on a couch at his parents' house in Michigan, and Stegman responded, "I'd love to be with you." Finch testified that he believed the parties were

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informally married until he subsequently learned that Michigan does not recognize common-law marriage.

In 1998, the parties decided to move to Texas for a warmer climate and to be near Finch's two children from a previous marriage. Finch wanted to buy a house in Texas and he was unemployed at the time, so he came to Texas before Stegman to look for a house. He found one in Harris County that he intended to buy, but he was not approved for a loan. Stegman was approved for a loan, and she used some of the proceeds from the sale of her Michigan house for the down payment. Finch also sold his house in Michigan and received "[a]bout 25-, 26,000 [dollars] for sure," which he contributed to the purchase of the Harris County house. Finch signed the deed of trust in Stegman's name "as [Stegman's] agent and attorney-in-fact." The deed of trust listed Stegman as "an unmarried woman" and the sole borrower on the loan. The Harris County house was conveyed solely to Stegman.2

Finch testified that he and Stegman agreed to be informally married again after moving to Texas but before buying the Harris County house in 1998. Finch did not offer details of the agreement to be married, but he answered "yes" when his counsel asked if he and Stegman "agree[d] to be married in Texas in 1998" and if they lived together afterwards. Finch testified that he did not "think [he and

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Stegman] really even brought it up. [Finch] thought [they] were married and since [they] lived together here in Texas."

In 2007, Finch and Stegman decided to buy a second, larger house in Fort Bend County because Stegman's mother had moved in with them. Finch did not qualify for the mortgage loan because of identity-theft issues, so Stegman obtained a loan in her name and the Fort Bend County house was conveyed to her "as an unmarried person." The loan on the Fort Bend County house was refinanced in 2010, after the parties formally married, but Stegman testified that Finch was not included as a borrower on the refinanced loan. The loan was again refinanced in 2017, listing both Stegman and Finch, as "wife and husband," together as borrowers for the first time. Stegman did not sell the Harris County house, and she owned it at the time of the underlying divorce proceedings.

The parties were married in a formal ceremony in Texas on July 8, 2009, and they never had children together. On June 1, 2017, Stegman filed an original petition for divorce on the grounds of insupportability and cruelty. See TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. §§ 6.001, 6.002. She asserted a claim for reimbursement and asked for a disproportionate share of the parties' community estate based on her reimbursement claim and on Finch's alleged fault in breaking up the marriage and wasting community assets. She also asserted a claim for intentional infliction of emotional

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distress based on a 2011 motor-vehicle accident that Finch had allegedly caused while driving alone after using heroin, which Finch denied.

Finch answered and generally denied Stegman's allegations. He filed a counterpetition for divorce, claiming that the parties were informally married in September 1998. He also asserted a counterclaim for reimbursement.

In December 2018, the trial court held a two-day bench trial. Stegman admitted that she and Finch had lived together from 1993 through the time of trial but denied that they had agreed to be married before 2009. She supported her testimony with the parties' marriage certificate. Stegman admitted that Finch had given her a ring in Michigan, but she denied that she had agreed to be married to Finch. She testified that she did not wear the ring because she did not like it, and she explained that "[Finch] said it was a cubic zirconia, that we would get something better when we could afford it. I - I've never worn it, and he knows that."

Stegman also produced evidence proving that she purchased the Harris County and Fort Bend County houses in her name alone prior to the parties' marriage. She produced the 1998 deed of trust for the Harris County house, which listed the borrower as "Angela Stegman, an unmarried woman" and showed that Finch had signed the documents as Stegman's "agent and attorney-in-fact," not as her husband. She also produced a 2018 printout from the Harris County Appraisal District website listing Stegman as the sole owner of the Harris County house. To

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support her ownership of the Fort Bend County house, Stegman produced the general warranty deed conveying it to "Angela J. Stegman, an unmarried person" in November 2007, a printout from the Fort Bend County Tax Office website listing only Stegman's name in relation to ownership of the house, and a deed of trust for a refinance loan on the house that listed Stegman and Finch, "wife and husband," as borrowers for the first time in 2017.

Stegman asked the court to award her a disproportionate share of the community assets. She testified that she consistently maintained employment during the parties' 25-year relationship, including working two jobs for 13 years, and she had always contributed to her retirement accounts. Finch, she testified, was often unemployed. Stegman testified about her retirement accounts and other financial information, and she produced supporting evidence, including the account balances. On cross-examination, Stegman admitted that, when the parties began speaking about divorce, "[Finch] wanted the [Harris County house], and I felt that we both paid for this home so we should sell the home. I should get half. [Finch] should get the other [half]." She also admitted that the parties "always went pretty much half on everything" and that Finch had "helped with house payments . . . ." Finch testified that he contributed "[f]ifty percent or better" to the mortgage payments on the Harris County house and that he maintained the house and the pool. On cross-examination, Finch testified that the trial court had entered an agreed temporary order in

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November 2017 for him to pay $1,188 per month to Stegman for his share of the household expenses through the time of trial while the parties lived together. Finch admitted, however, that he had only paid $600 per month.

During his case-in-chief, Finch testified that, prior to the parties' formal marriage, he believed that he and Stegman were married and that he "always introduced [Stegman] as [his] wife, and she introduced [him] as her husband," including to Kathleen and Jerry Johnson, who were "neighbors down the street" but who were not called to testify at trial, and to family members, including his daughter, Tiffany Finch. Finch also testified that his son called Stegman "mom" and that Stegman would pick up his kids from school, although he could not say whether the school listed Stegman as his wife in its records. Finch's son did not testify at trial. Finch testified that his mother and Stegman exchanged cards on Mother's Day, but he denied that Stegman "formally" called his mother "mom." Finch testified that he introduced Stegman as his wife to coworkers at a Christmas party in 2003 or 2004.

On cross-examination, Finch's counsel asked Stegman if she had used the name "Angie Finch" on a credit card in 2007, two years before the parties' formal marriage, and Stegman admitted that she had used the name, but she was not clear

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about the date.3 Finch did not testify about Stegman's use of his last name on tax returns, but he did testify that Stegman had "always done the tax returns." When Stegman was asked on cross-examination, "Who files the taxes for Mr. Finch," she responded, "With a joint signature. We both do." The only documentary evidence in the record concerning the parties' taxes is an illegible photocopy of two 1040 forms for tax years 2016 and 2017, which were attached to Stegman's financial statement filed with the court.

Finch's only documentary evidence consisted of affidavits that he had submitted regarding theft of his identity, which had prevented him from obtaining approval on the mortgage loan for the Fort Bend County house in 2007.

Finch called his daughter, Tiffany Finch, to testify about the parties' marriage. Tiffany testified that she did not want to visit her father often...

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