Court of Civil Appeals Discusses Rule That Failure to Hold Hearing on Postjudgment Motions Is Reversible Error

In Wicks v. Wicks, released by the Court of Civil Appeals on April 16, 2010, the court discussed the ule that a trial court’s failure to hold a hearing on postjudgment motions constitutes reversible error.  It held that the harmless error exception to that rule was not applicable where the husband alleged the wife’s fraudulent failure to list substantial assets in a divorce settlement agreement.    

On September 8, 2008, the parties to the underlying divorce proceedings reached a divorce settlement agreement.  Within three months of the agreement, the husband filed a motion to stay its enforcement, alleging that the wife had fraudulently failed to disclose specific asssets of substantial value. 

On March 17, 2009, the trial court entered a final judgment of divorce which incorporated the September, 2008 agreement.  The husband filed a postjudgment motion alleging the wife’s fraud and requested a hearing.  Without holding a hearing, the trial court denied the husband’s postjudgment motion. 

On appeal, the husband argued that the trial court erred when it denied his postjudgment motion without a hearing.  The court of civil appeals agreed, noting the general rule that a party who requests a hearing on a postjudgment motion is entitled to such and that the trial court’s failure to conduct a hearing is reversible error.  

The court rejected the wife’s argument that the case raised the harmless error exception to the general rule that the failure to hold a hearing on postjudgment motions is reversible error.  That exception comes into play only where the appellate court concludes that there would have been no  merit to the motion:  

Harmless error occurs, within the context of a Rule 59(g) motion, where there is either no probable merit in the grounds asserted in the motion, or where the appellate court resolves the issues presented therein, as a matter of law, adversely to the movant, by application of the same objective standard of review as that applied in the trial court. 

Here, however, the court found that there was merit, as the husband alleged the wife’s failure to disclose substantial assets very soon after he discovered it and again at the postjudgment stage.  These allegations, if proven, would provide grounds to set aside the final judgment.  Therefore, the trial court’s failure to hold a hearing on the husband’s post-trial motion was not harmless error and the order was reversed.