Pursuant to Texas Fam. Code § 8.051, the court may award Texas spousal maintenance to a spouse who lacks sufficient resources to provide for their own minimum reasonable needs if the other spouse was convicted of or received deferred adjudication for a criminal offense that constituted an act of family violence against the spouse or the spouse’s child and the offense occurred within two years before the divorce case was filed or while it was pending. Additionally, the court may award maintenance to a spouse who lacks sufficient resources to provide for their own minimum needs if they: are unable to earn sufficient income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs due to an incapacitating disability; lack the ability to earn sufficient income after being married to the other spouse for at least 10 years; or are the custodian of the parties’ child with a disability who requires substantial care and supervision that prevents the custodial parent from earning sufficient income. A husband recently appealed a spousal maintenance award, arguing there was insufficient evidence that the wife was eligible for maintenance.
Wife Seeks Spousal Maintenance
The husband petitioned for divorce after seven years of marriage, alleging insupportability. He requested the court to appoint the parties joint managing conservators of their child.
The wife also alleged the marriage was insupportable, but also alleged cruel treatment and “a history or pattern of committing family violence” by the husband. She alleged she would not have adequate resources to meet her minimum reasonable needs and sought spousal maintenance. She claimed she was eligible to receive spousal maintenance as a result of “domestic violence.”
The wife testified her monthly expenses were $5,088, but that she only earned $2,190 per month. She testified the husband had been “very controlling” during the three years before they separated. She testified he had threatened to leave her or kick her out if she was not “obedient.” She testified about incidents in which he took her phone, denied her access to a vehicle, and kept her from accessing or knowing about their bank accounts. She said she feared him and expressed concerns “he had a lot of guns.”
The wife presented evidence the husband had pleaded guilty to a DWI in 2019 and was arrested for another DWI in 2021. She testified she slept in a locked bedroom with the child due to the husband’s sleepwalking. He did not remember what happened during his sleepwalking, but would sometimes engage in dangerous activities like cooking.
The lead instructor at the child’s school testified about the mother’s role as a teacher.
The trial court granted the divorce on the ground of insupportability. The trial court appointed both parties joint managing conservators of the child and granted the mother the exclusive right to designate the primary residence. In addition to child support, the court awarded the wife $600 in monthly spousal maintenance.
In its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court pointed to testimony regarding the husband’s treatment of the wife in support of the deviation from the standard possession order. The trial court also pointed out evidence he was still on bond for the second DWI charge and “was still drinking alcohol in excess.”
The court also found the wife lacked sufficient resources to provide for her minimum reasonable needs and had exercised diligence to either earn sufficient income or develop the necessary skills. The court indicated it had considered the length of the marriage, the wife’s age, work history, earning ability, and physical and emotional condition, the parties’ ability to independently provide for their own minimum reasonable needs, their education and employment skills, the time necessary for the wife to acquire sufficient education or training to enable her to earn sufficient income and the availability and feasibility of such training, the contribution as a homemaker, and the effect of the parties’ ability to provide for their own minimum reasonable needs while also paying child support or maintenance.
The Husband’s Appeal
The husband appealed the spousal support award, arguing there was no evidence showing the wife was eligible.
The husband did not dispute that the wife would lack sufficient resources, but argued there was not evidence she met the other requirements. The trial court did not specify on which basis it granted the maintenance, so the appeals court considered whether any of the criteria under Texas Fam. Code § 8.051 applied.
The appeals court noted there was no evidence of a deferred adjudication for any offense. Although there was evidence of a DWI conviction, that offense does not constitute an act of family violence under Tex. Fam. Code 71.004. With no evidence of a conviction or deferred adjudication of a criminal offense constituting an act of family violence, the trial court abused its discretion if domestic violence was the basis for maintenance award.
Physical or Mental Disability
There was no evidence the wife had an incapacitating physical or mental disability preventing her from earning sufficient income. The wife had not presented medical testimony or records reflecting a disability and there was no testimony indicating she suffered from symptoms that prevented her from working. The appeals court noted the wife had a master’s degree and was working as a teach. There was no evidence indicating she had a limited capacity for employment due to a disability. The trial court therefore did not have the discretion to award spousal maintenance on the ground of disability.
Duration of Marriage
Pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code 8.051(2)(B), a court may award spousal maintenance to a spouse who cannot earn sufficient income after 10 years of marriage. The evidence showed the parties married in 2014 and that the husband filed his petition after seven years. Because the parties were not married for at least 10 years, the trial court did not have the discretion to award maintenance under that subsection.
There was also not any evidence the child needed substantial care and supervision due to a disability that prevented the wife from earning sufficient income. The evidence suggested the child was generally healthy and developing appropriately. The appeals court concluded there was no substantive or probative evidence that the wife was eligible for maintenance under this subsection.
Without sufficient evidence that the wife was eligible for spousal maintenance under any of the subsections in section 8.051, the trial court abused its discretion by awarding spousal maintenance. The appeals court reversed the spousal maintenance award and rendered judgment denying the wife’s maintenance claim. It otherwise affirmed the final divorce decree.
Consult a Skilled Dallas Alimony Lawyer
This case shows that it is not sufficient for a spouse to show that they cannot meet their minimum reasonable needs; they must also meet other criteria to be eligible for maintenance. If you are considering a divorce, a knowledgeable Texas spousal maintenance attorney can advise you on the potential financial effects of divorce and help you fight to protect yourself financially. Call 214.692.8200 to set up your consultation with McClure Law Group.