Texas Spousal Maintenance Upheld Without Medical Records or Expert Testimony

iStock-1183385986-scaledA court may order Texas spousal maintenance if the spouse requesting it is not able to earn enough to provide for their own minimum reasonable needs due to an incapacitating disability. The incapacitating disability may be either physical or mental.  Tex. Fam. Code 8.051.  A former husband recently challenged a spousal-maintenance award, arguing that the former wife had not shown her disability was “incapacitating.”

Husband Files for Divorce

The couple separated in September 2016 and the husband petitioned for divorce in 2018.  At trial, the wife testified she had fallen down the stairs in April 2016.

The wife testified she had lost her vision for several days as a result of the fall. She also experienced seizures.  She was in the hospital for several days and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury with severe memory loss.  She said she had difficulty with words and processing things.  She testified she recently started regaining her memory and taught herself to read again.  She also testified her short-term memory had gotten better than it had been.  She admitted that she could currently drive and do math with a calculator.

The wife testified that her doctor had not yet released her for work.  She said she would like to work because the money she received from Social Security disability was not enough to live on.

The wife’s neurologist prescribed her a number of medications after the fall.  Her mother testified that the medications affected the wife’s demeanor and caused her severe headaches.  She said the wife still had seizures. She also testified she had seen the wife look online for job postings, but that she was unable to get a job because of her medications and headaches.

Trial Court Orders Husband to Pay Spousal Maintenance

The trial court awarded the wife spousal maintenance, finding she was disabled and had become so during the marriage.  The court based this finding on evidence that she received Social Security disability payments and on the testimony from the wife and her mother. The court ordered the husband to pay $567 per month, with a provision for an annual review.

The husband appealed, arguing the wife did not meet the requirements to be eligible for spousal maintenance due to a disability, because she did not have an “incapacitating” disability. In support, he argued she was able to perform daily activities and, therefore, the disability could not be incapacitating.

The wife had not provided medical records or expert testimony regarding her disability at trial.  She testified about her diagnosis and the husband did not dispute it, even though the wife was not an expert witness (i.e., a medical professional).  The husband’s testimony confirmed the accident and the hospital stay. The wife testified about her ongoing symptoms and continued need for multiple medications. She also testified that she received Social Security disability benefits.  The mother also testified about the wife’s ongoing symptoms and condition.  The appeals court found the testimony constituted some evidence that the wife was incapacitated by her ongoing symptoms, even if it was not expert testimony.

Appeals Court Affirms Trial Court’s Judgment

The appeals court noted the wife was able to perform certain tasks and engage in some activities, but found her ability to do those things did not mean her injury was not incapacitating.

The appeals court also rejected the husband’s argument there was not sufficient evidence that the wife’s disability was the cause of her inability to work. The wife had testified that her doctor had not cleared her to work and that she was not physically able to get a job yet. The wife’s mother had also testified that she was rejected on at least one job application, because one of her medications showed up on the job’s drug test.

The appeals court found there was probative evidence supporting the maintenance award and affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

Obtaining Spousal Maintenance in Texas is Tough – Hire Attorneys who are Tougher

In this case, the court found testimony was sufficient to support a finding of incapacitating disability. If you are anticipating a divorce with a potential claim for spousal maintenance, a knowledgeable Texas spousal maintenance attorney can work with you to determine what evidence is needed to support or oppose that claim.  Contact McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 to schedule a consultation.


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