Texas Appeals Court Upholds Spousal Support Awarded to Wife after 28-year Marriage

The purpose of Texas spousal maintenance is to give a spouse temporary rehabilitative support after deterioration of their ability to support themselves while taking care of the home and family during the marriage. Spousal maintenance is only available if the spouse meets certain statutory requirements.  A former husband recently challenged a spousal maintenance award.

The wife petitioned for divorce after about 28 years of marriage and sought spousal maintenance.  In the final decree, the trial court ordered the husband to pay her $2,000 per month for five years.

The husband appealed, challenging the wife’s eligibility, as well as the amount and duration of maintenance ordered.  The wife argued there was an agreed decree and the husband had waived his right to challenge it.

Not an Agreed Judgment

Generally, a party cannot appeal a judgment to which he consented or agreed, except in cases of fraud, collusion, or misrepresentation.  Consent waives error in the judgment, with the exception of jurisdictional error.  The parties must “explicitly and unmistakably consent” for a judgment to constitute a consent judgment.  A signature approving the decree alone is not sufficient, nor is language such as “approved as to form and substance.”

The parties signed the decree “approved and consented to as both form and substance.” The husband, however, had testified that he objected to any spousal maintenance award for the wife.  The appeals court concluded he had not “explicitly and unmistakenly” consented to the maintenance award and therefore had not waived his right to appeal it.

Eligibility for Spousal Maintenance

A spouse who has been married 10 or more years is eligible to seek maintenance if they do not have sufficient property or the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs.  Tex. Fam. Code § 8.051(2)(B). There is a rebuttable presumption against maintenance unless they exercised diligence in earning sufficient income or in developing the necessary skills to provide for their minimum reasonable needs during separation and pendency of the divorce.  The court must determine the party’s minimum reasonable needs based upon the specific facts of the case.

The trial court found the parties were married for more than 10 years.  It further found the wife lacked sufficient income and would lack sufficient property to provide for her minimum reasonable needs.  It also found she was diligent in earning sufficient income and in developing necessary skills.  The appeals court noted the court’s findings and conclusions were supported by sufficient evidence.

The wife testified she had worked a while after college and then became a homemaker.  Between 1994 and 2006, she worked at a daycare until she quit to go to college.  After earning a psychology degree, she worked for a short time and again quit to be a homemaker.  She worked sporadically from 2011 and 2021.  She started working after the separation in 2021 and testified her net income was about $3,100 per month.

The husband argued the wife’s income was $4,554.67 per month based on overtime on her paystubs.  The wife testified, however, that the overtime she had received that year was not typical and was not expected in the future.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion, assuming the court used only the base salary in calculating her income.

The wife was awarded three vehicles, half of the husband’s retirement plan, $5,980 cash, and half the net proceeds from the future sale of the home.  She presented monthly expenses of $2,886.30 plus an additional $1,200 rent, making total claimed expenses of $4,086.30.

The appeals court concluded there was evidence the wife’s monthly minimum reasonable needs were $4,086.30.

The husband argued the wife could meet her needs by selling the truck she was awarded or with her share of the proceeds from the home.  The appeals court noted a party does not have to liquidate all of their available assets to meet their needs.  There was also conflicting testimony on the truck’s value.  Additionally, there was evidence the home needed significant repairs before being sold and the trial court was unable to determine the net equity the wife would receive.

The appeals court held there was evidence supporting the trial court’s ruling the wife rebutted the presumption against maintenance.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion the court’s determination she was eligible for spousal maintenance.

Amount and Duration of Maintenance

The husband also challenged the amount and duration of maintenance ordered by the court.

Once a spouse establishes they are eligible for maintenance, the court must determine the amount and duration of the award.  Tex. Fam. Code § 8.052 sets forth a list of non-exclusive factors to be considered by the court, including each spouse’s ability to provide for their own minimum reasonable needs; their education and employment skills; and any acts resulting in excessive expenditures or the destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community or other common property.  The maintenance award must be limited to the lesser of 20% of the paying spouse’s gross monthly income or $5,000 per month.

The appeals court concluded the court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law indicated which factors it considered in determining the award.  Furthermore, there was evidence in the record supporting the findings related to those factors. The appeals court also pointed out that the $2,000 per month award was less than 20% of the husband’s gross monthly income and therefore within the court’s discretion.

Pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code  8.054(a)(1)(B), based on the length of the marriage, the trial court had the discretion to award maintenance for up to seven years, but without a finding of a compelling impediment that restricted her from earning a sufficient income, was also required to limit maintenance to the shortest reasonable time to allow her to earn sufficient income to meet her minimum reasonable needs.

The appeals court concluded sufficient evidence supported the duration of the award.  The appeals court pointed to the financial discrepancy between the parties; the assets awarded separately; the amount of time before the wife could receive a raise; the length of the marriage; the wife’s role as homemaker for the majority of the marriage while the husband worked in the oilfields; the husband’s depletion of the community estate; and his adultery.  The appeals court concluded there was no abuse of discretion in the award of five years maintenance and affirmed the judgment.

Call McClure Law Group

Spousal maintenance can be a contentious issue in a divorce case.  Maintenance is a highly fact-specific matter.  Whether you are seeking or opposing a spousal maintenance award, the skilled divorce attorneys at McClure Law Group can help you fight for a favorable outcome.  Call us at 214.692.8200 to schedule a meeting.

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