Texas Appeals Court Upholds Denial of Spousal Maintenance

iStock-1331374129-300x200Texas spousal maintenance is intended to give temporary support to a spouse whose ability to support themselves has diminished and whose assets are insufficient to support them.  After 10 years of marriage, a spouse who shows they lack sufficient property or the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for their “minimum reasonable needs” may be entitled to spousal maintenance.  Tex. Fam. Code § 8.051(2)(B).  They must, however, overcome the rebuttable presumption that maintenance is not warranted by showing they have exercised diligence in earning sufficient income to provide for their reasonable needs or developing the necessary skills to do so during separation and the pendency of the divorce case.  Tex. Fam. Code 8.053. In a recent case, a wife appealed a trial court’s denial of her request for spousal maintenance.

The appeals court’s opinion stated the parties got married in 2009 and separated in 2018.  The husband lived in Texas and the wife lived in a vacation condominium they bought in Illinois in 2018.  The husband petitioned for divorce in 2019 and the final hearing occurred in February 2021.

The husband requested an equal property division and no spousal maintenance.

The wife asked for a 60/40 split of the assets and $5,000 per month in spousal maintenance for five years. She had not worked during the marriage or during the divorce case.  Her mother testified she loaned her $37,500 during the separation.  The husband had also transferred about $50,000 worth of assets to the wife during the case.  The wife testified her monthly living expenses were about $12,000.  She had last worked as a medication aide in 2008.  She testified she previously worked as a certified nursing assistant but did not want to do so again.  She testified her dental assistance certification did not transfer to Illinois. She also testified she had photography certifications but had not tried to earn income from them.  She started a real estate course in 2019, but had not passed part of the test.  She also admitted she had “not done anything” to become employed since the divorce case commenced.  She said businesses were closed due to the pandemic and she did not have time to seek employment due to the divorce case.

The trial court denied the request for maintenance.  It did, however, award the wife the Illinois condominium, a vehicle, more than $150,000 in retirement funds, and cash, mutual funds, and stocks valued over $250,000. The court assigned her about $20,000 in credit card debt.

The wife appealed the court’s denial of her request for spousal maintenance. She pointed to her unemployment, the disparity in income, and her monthly expenses.  Although she acknowledged the trial court awarded her “substantial property,” she argued it did not earn income, was not easily liquidated, and was subject to taxes or penalties if it was liquidated.

The appeals court noted the wife did not address the presumption and the evidence supporting findings she had not exercised diligence to either earn sufficient income or develop necessary skills to provide for her minimum reasonable needs.  Despite her testimony regarding how the pandemic and divorce case affected her ability to seek employment, the trial court could have found she was not diligent in earning sufficient income.  The appeals court noted the parties were separated for six months before the pandemic.  She had gone to shops, to restaurants, and to horse-riding lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic, but did not apply for employment. She had a biology degree and several certifications, but had not used them to earn income.  Although she had taken a real estate course, she had not passed and had not taken any action toward completing it for more than a year before the final hearing.  The trial court reasonably could have found the wife failed to rebut the statutory presumption that maintenance was not warranted.

The appeals court rejected the wife’s comparison to In re McFarland.  In that case, the wife started working after the divorce petition was filed and the court concluded she had diligently tried to get suitable employment during the divorce case but needed training or education to be able to support herself.  The trial court also concluded she had a limited earning capacity and her available assets, of a home with a mortgage and a retirement account that could not be accessed without “severe tax consequences,” were not sufficiently liquid to provide for her minimum reasonable needs.

In this case, however, the evidence supported a finding the wife had not “exercised diligence” in developing skills or earning sufficient income to provide for her needs.  The court awarded her both a home and a vehicle with no corresponding debts.  The husband also testified the stocks in the community estate could be transferred within days and the check would generally arrive within two or three weeks.  The wife had also said she would likely have “plenty of money to live on” for “some limited amount of time” based on the division requested by the husband.  Thus, there was evidence that a significant amount of the assets were liquid.

The appeals court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of spousal maintenance and affirmed the decree.

Although the marriage lasted more than ten years and the wife had not been employed during that time, she still needed to show she exercised diligence in earning sufficient income to meet her reasonable minimum needs or in developing the skills to do so.  Whether spousal maintenance is warranted depends heavily on the facts and circumstances of the particular case.  Whether you are seeking or opposing spousal maintenance, you need a skilled Texas divorce attorney on your side.  Schedule a consultation with McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

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