Spousal Maintenance in Texas Divorce Cases

In a Texas divorce, a spouse who cannot support herself or himself because of an incapacitating disability and does not have sufficient property to meet their needs may be eligible for spousal maintenance. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.051.  Spousal support is generally limited in time, but a court may order spousal maintenance indefinitely to a spouse who is disabled.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.054.  There are statutory limits to the amount of spousal maintenance a court can award.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.055.

A husband recently challenged an award of spousal maintenance to the wife.  He filed for divorce after the couple had been married for more than 18 years.  The wife filed a counterpetition and sought spousal maintenance.

At trial, the wife testified she owned as separate property a house she received in a previous divorce.    She expected to receive $96,000 in proceeds from its sale to put toward buying a new home.  She testified she would “barely have enough to pay for [the new] house.”

She also testified the husband had made some “[m]inor improvements” on the home, which were funded from a joint checking account.  Some of the money in the joint account came from the husband’s inheritance, but she did not know how much he had inherited and put in the account.

The wife requested the husband be ordered to help her pay the monthly car payment.  She asked the court to order him to pay $240 per month for her utility bills.  She also asked the court to consider her $350 in monthly medical expenses, $30 per month for haircuts, and $200 per month to pay down the credit cards.  She sought about $1,122 per month in spousal maintenance for her living expenses.

The wife testified the Social Security Administration had found her to be disabled in 2015, but she did not receive any Social Security benefits other than Medicare.  She stated her family and charities had helped her cover her expenses while the divorce was pending.  She asked the court to award her 20% of the amount her husband was currently earning as permanent monthly spousal support.

The husband testified regarding the amount of his inheritance, but did not have any records showing the amount or when and where he deposited it.  He asked the court to award the wife the proceeds from the house’s sale instead of spousal support and anything from his retirement account.

The court granted the divorce.  It awarded the wife’s vehicle and associated debt to her.  It also found she was entitled to 50% of the husband’s retirement benefits accrued during the marriage.  It found the house was the wife’s separate property and that the husband was not entitled to reimbursement for the improvements.  The court also ordered the husband to pay $900 per month in spousal maintenance.

The husband appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in ordering spousal maintenance because the wife was awarded sufficient property to meet her minimum reasonable needs.  The appeals court found, however, there was sufficient evidence to support the maintenance order.  The wife provided details of her monthly expenses and income, and then testified she still needed about $1,122 to meet her necessary expenses each month.  She also testified that amount did not include her housing expenses and that she would put the proceeds from the sale of the house toward buying a new home.  Thus, there was evidence that the money from the house would go toward housing expenses and would not help the wife with her other expenses.

The husband had testified his retirement annuity would not pay out for 12 to 15 more years.  Those future benefits would not help the wife with her current monthly expenses.  The decree stated the change in circumstances when the wife began to receive the retirement benefits would be considered in any petition the husband filed to modify support.  The trial court had considered the effect of the retirement benefits on the parties.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court ordering the husband to pay maintenance.

The husband also argued that the trial court erred in finding he made more than $4500 per month and ordering a monthly support amount that exceeded the statutory limit.  The appeals court found the evidence did not support the husband’s monthly gross income being greater than $4,500.  The husband testified he was only earning a salary fixed at $4,185.68 per month.  The wife also testified that the husband’s income was that same amount.  The trial court was limited to a maximum spousal maintenance amount of $837.14 per month.

The trial court does not have discretion to exceed the statutory limits.  The appeals court therefore reversed the amount of the award and remanded to the trial court for a new trial to determine the amount of spousal maintenance.

Finally, the husband argued the trial court abused its discretion by not ordering reimbursement to him for the home improvements.  Reimbursement for funds expended for improvements is measured by enhancement in value to the improved property.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.402.  The husband testified he made the improvement using funds from his inheritance to improve the house.  He did not present evidence showing there was an enhanced value to the property resulting from the improvements.  The appeals court therefore found no abuse of discretion in the trial court denying reimbursement because the husband failed to present sufficient evidence he was entitled to the reimbursement.

Spousal maintenance can be a contentious issue in a divorce.  Whether you are seeking or opposing an order of spousal maintenance, the experienced Texas divorce attorneys at McClure Law Group can help you.  Call us at 214.692.8200 to set up a meeting to talk about your case.

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