Disability Can Be Established Through Lay Testimony in Texas Spousal Maintenance Case

iStock-545456068-300x184A Texas court may award spousal maintenance in certain circumstances, including when a spouse lacks sufficient property to provide for their reasonable minimum needs and is unable to earn enough income to provide for those minimum reasonable needs due to an incapacitating disability.  Tex. Fam. Code § 8.051.  Spousal support is generally limited based on the length of the marriage, but may be indefinite while the spouse is unable to support himself or herself because of a disability.  Tex. Fam. Code § 8.054(b).

A husband recently challenged a spousal maintenance award.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties had been married for about eight years and had a child together when the husband filed for divorce.  The wife requested spousal maintenance.

Evidence Presented at Trial Regarding Spousal-Maintenance Request

The wife, the husband, and the husband’s mother all testified at trial.  The wife testified about her work history, educational background, and health issues.  She testified that she received daily dialysis, which required her to be connected to a machine for as much as 10 hours.  She could, however, do the dialysis at home where she could move around the house and care for the child.

The wife said she had a bachelor’s degree in architecture and was working part time as an architect for $12.25 per hour. She testified she was unable to work more than 24 hours per week.  She had been unable to work at all when she first started dialysis, but had been released by her doctor to work part time.

The wife had health insurance through the husband’s employer and needed the coverage for her treatments.  She said she did not have enough money to pay for her own insurance.  She had researched COBRA and thought it would cost about $700 per month.  She had monthly expenses of utilities, food, and necessities for the child.  Her father paid for housing, but she testified she helped with other household expenses.

Husband Ordered to Pay Spousal Maintenance – Husband Appeals

The trial court divided the community estate equally and ordered the husband to pay $800in monthly spousal maintenance.  The husband moved for reconsideration, modification, or alternatively, a new trial.  He argued that $800 in monthly spousal maintenance resulted in an unjust and inequitable property division because the wife had a job and her stepfather was paying the mortgage.  He testified it would be hard for him to make the monthly payment.  There was evidence the husband earned $5,300 per month.  The wife testified she was relying on the maintenance to cover her COBRA insurance. The trial court denied the husband’s motions and he appealed.

The husband argued the trial court abused its discretion in awarding maintenance because there was not sufficient evidence to calculate the nature and amount of money awarded.  He argued the wife failed to show “the amount she requested would meet her minimum reasonable needs” and there was insufficient evidence of an incapacitating disability.  He argued there was no evidence supporting her testimony COBRA would cost $700 per month because she did not present an insurance quote, printout, COBRA Document, or estimate of benefits.  He argued she did not provide sufficient information to calculate the support needed.  He also argue she failed to prove her medical condition resulted in an incapacitating disability.

The appeals court noted, there was not authority on the amount of evidence needed to prove incapacity.  The fact finder, therefore, could reasonably infer incapacity based on competent lay testimony or circumstantial evidence.  There is also case law holding that the extent and duration of incapacity can be proven by lay opinion without expert medical testimony.

The parties both testified about the wife’s medical condition and her need for a kidney transplant.  Although there was evidence the wife could maintain a part-time job, care for the child, and perform certain other tasks, this evidence did not mean her disability was not incapacitating.  She had testified her condition prevented her from working full time.

Appeals Court Finds Evidence Sufficient – Affirms Judgment

The appeals court determined the wife had provided sufficient evidence to support a conclusion her income was insufficient to meet her minimum reasonable needs.  She testified she could “not really” support herself on her monthly income, pointing out that she also had to support the child.  She also provided an estimated cost for maintaining her health insurance.  Although the husband argued the estimated amount was unsupported, the wife had testified she researched COBRA insurance and testified the cost would be about $700.  The husband had not provided any evidence to the contrary.

The appeals court concluded the trial court could infer incapacity from the evidence and determine she qualified for spousal maintenance.

The husband also argued the trial court abused its discretion in awarding maintenance indefinitely.  The appeals court pointed out, however, that the statute limits maintenance only in certain circumstances and those limits did not apply when maintenance was ordered under Tex. Fam. Code § § 8.051(a)(2)(A), where maintenance is awarded due to the spouse’s inability to provide his or her minimum reasonable needs due to disability.

The appeals court found that the trial court awarded maintenance based on the wife’s incapacitating physical disability pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code § 8.051(2)(A).  The appeals court concluded that an indefinite spousal maintenance award pursuant to § 8.051(2)(A) is permitted by § 8.054(b) as long was the wife meets the criteria.  The trial court therefore did not abuse its discretion in awarding indefinite spousal maintenance.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

Spousal Maintenance is a Hot-Button Issue – Call McClure Law Group Today

Maintenance can be an extremely contentious issue in a divorce case, and is especially important when one spouse’s ability to work is limited due to a disability.  If you anticipate a dispute over spousal maintenance in your divorce, you need a knowledgeable Dallas divorce attorney on your side.  Set up your consultation with McClure Law Group by calling 214.692.8200.

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