Texas Spousal Maintenance Award Cannot Exceed Statutory Maximum

Texas spousal maintenance is intended to be temporary and rehabilitative. A trial court can only award spousal maintenance if the party seeking it meets certain requirements, which depend on the parties’ circumstances. A husband recently challenged a trial court’s award spousal maintenance to the wife for 81 months.

According to the appeals court, the parties got married in 2012 and had three children together.  The husband worked primarily in law enforcement, while the wife was a homemaker.  They separated in February 2021 and the husband moved out.  He petitioned for divorce in March.  The wife requested a disproportionate share of the community estate and spousal maintenance.

The trial court awarded the wife the home and a disproportionate share of the assets.  It also ordered the husband to pay her $1,200 in monthly spousal maintenance for 81 months.  The husband appealed the order for maintenance.

Spousal Maintenance Presumption

The husband argued the wife failed to rebut the presumption against spousal maintenance.  The appeals court noted the wife would only be eligible for maintenance if she could show the parties had been married for at least ten years and she lacked sufficient property and earning capacity to provide for her reasonable minimum needs.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.051(2)(B).

There is a rebuttable presumption that spousal maintenance is not warranted under Section 8.051(2)(B) unless the party exercised diligence in earning sufficient income or developing the necessary skills to provide for her necessary needs during the separation and divorce case.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.053.

The husband argued there was no evidence the wife had been diligent in either earning sufficient income or developing necessary skills.  The wife argued her testimony was sufficient to rebut the presumption.  She had testified she worked as a teacher’s aide during the latter part of the school year, but did not work after the end of the school year because child care was too expensive.  Daycare would cost more than she would earn with just a high school education and lack of job training.  She testified she intended to keep working as a school aide during the next school year and that she had “look[ed] into” a course to become a certified teacher’s aide. She had applied for an in-home medical position, but was unable to take the job due to caring for her children.  She had obtained “food stamps,” used a borrowed car, and got loans from her family and in-laws to cover her mortgage and interview clothes.  She acknowledged she had not taken any college classes or job training.

The appeals court concluded the wife’s testimony was evidence of her diligence and that the trial court acted within its discretion in finding she was eligible for spousal maintenance.

Spousal Maintenance Duration

The husband also argued the trial court erred in ordering spousal maintenance for a period in excess of the statutory maximum time period.  The wife acknowledged that the trial court erred in ordering maintenance beyond the five year statutory period.

When parties have been married between ten and twenty years, the trial court may award maintenance for up to five years.  TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 8.054.  The trial court’s order of 81 months exceeded the 60-month maximum.  Rather than modifying the award, the appeals court decided to remand the case because it appeared the amount and duration were “intertwined with other considerations. . .” The trial court stated that the husband would be given credit for his equity in the home, such that the spousal support was “coming out of his equity in the home. . . “

The appeals court therefore reversed and remanded the case to the trial court.

Call McClure Law Group

If you have been a homemaker during your marriage, spousal maintenance may be appropriate.  An experienced Texas divorce attorney can advise you.  Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 to schedule an appointment to discuss your case.

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