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Texas Spousal Maintenance for a Disabled Spouse

wheelchairIn a recent Texas divorce case, an appellate court considered a spousal maintenance order in a case involving a disabled spouse. The couple were divorced in 2012, and their divorce decree found the wife was eligible for spousal maintenance (also known as alimony), and it ordered the husband to pay her $400 per month until one of the following four events happened:  a review of the order in three years, death, the remarriage of the wife, or a further court order.

In the summer of 2015, the ex-wife asked that her spousal maintenance be continued. The husband asked for a dismissal, claiming that it was untimely, since she was supposed to ask for review in January, six months prior to the date on which she actually sought review. The trial court denied the ex-wife’s petition but also denied the motion to dismiss.

The wife argued that there was an error in denying her request for continued maintenance because she’d shown she received Social Security Disability, and the trial court couldn’t disregard her testimony about disability. Section 8.054 of the Texas Family Code is the code section that covers the duration of spousal maintenance orders. As long as you continue to satisfy the eligibility criteria, the maintenance may continue. The trial court can conduct periodic reviews.

In this case, the order was supposed to be reviewed in three years from the 2012 divorce decree to decide if it should be continued. The trial court must have decided she qualified for maintenance when the maintenance was initially ordered. She had qualified because she wasn’t able to earn enough income to cover her minimum reasonable needs, due to an incapacitating disability. She needed to prove by a preponderance of evidence that she had a continuing disability that prevented her from earning enough to provide for her minimum needs.

The ex-wife argued that the executive branch had already determined she was disabled, and that’s why she received Social Security Disability payments. The appellate court disagreed, explaining that the trial court’s decision to continue maintenance was a matter of its discretion, even if she was permanently disabled. Even assuming the receipt of Social Security benefits was evidence of a permanent disability, the trial court could still deny her request to continue maintenance payments.

The appellate court also explained that she had the burden to show that it was more likely than not she still had an incapacitating physical disability, and her incapacitating physical disability stopped her from earning enough income to provide for her minimum reasonable needs.

The appellate court explained that the ex-wife’s daughter had told him about one year before the hearing that her mother was living with someone. The ex-husband also testified he’d helped the ex-wife file for Social Security Disability based on medical problems, but he didn’t believe she couldn’t be employed. She’d worked jobs for cash toward the end of their marriage.

She testified that she received Social Security, maintenance, income from occasional side jobs, and income in the form of rent from a tenant. She testified that her expenses were greater than her income. The appellate court explained that the trial court could believe the ex-husband’s testimony that she could get and keep a job, and the ex-wife had not disputed this testimony. The order was affirmed.

If you are considering divorce and concerned about alimony, contact the Texas attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

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