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Requests to Modify Spousal Maintenance in Texas

ringsIn a recent Texas alimony decision, an ex-husband appealed the granting of spousal maintenance to his ex-wife. The couple had married in 2005. The man sued for divorce 10 years later. The woman claimed that the formal marriage had occurred in 2005, but they had married in 1999 when she was 16. They had two kids.

Around age 16, she lived with the man and his son. She was prevented from working, and he paid all of the bills and paid for food, while she cleaned and cooked and went to parent-teacher meetings for her stepson. She did finish high school and took classes to become a surgical technologist, even though she claimed she wasn’t allowed to work outside the house. She almost finished the program but was stopped from finishing by her husband. She testified later she couldn’t go back and finish the program because students weren’t allowed to re-enter after dropping out.

Once the husband sued for divorce, she worked as a waitress and then in retail. She got under $2,000 in monthly income, and her expenses were almost twice that. She didn’t have enough money, even with child support being paid, to cover her reasonable needs. She also said she didn’t have the education necessary for a better job. She estimated that getting the education she needed while caring for two kids would take five or six years, due to clinical hours.

Meanwhile, CPS had required her to get a full-time job that stopped her from retraining herself, and to stop working in retail would violate the CPS service plan. She eventually clarified that she’d had to drop out of school because she’d missed too many classes, and she made some ambiguous remarks in connection with whether her husband had stopped her from finishing the program.

The husband disagreed that she cooked for him or that he prevented her from finishing school. He claimed that she missed classes due to drunkenness and that he’d never stopped her from getting a job. The lower court ordered spousal maintenance in an amount under $1,500 per month. The husband appealed.

The appellate court conducted a factual sufficiency review. The husband had argued that the wife hadn’t rebutted the presumption against alimony. She’d tried to find better work only once. The appellate court explained that the lower court could award spousal maintenance at its discretion when someone asking for alimony meets the eligibility criteria found in Texas Family Code section 8.051. This section found that in a divorce, the spouse seeking maintenance has to be married for 10 years or longer and have an inability to get enough income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs.

The husband didn’t argue on appeal or at trial that she wasn’t eligible under this code section, but he did disagree about whether she overcame the rebuttable presumption that maintenance wouldn’t be warranted except when a spouse used diligence to get enough income for minimum reasonable needs or for developing skills needed to provide for those needs during a period of separation.

An eligible spouse can rebut the presumption by showing diligence in earning income or developing necessary skills. In this case, there was conflicting evidence about whether the husband had allowed the wife to work. She’d testified about her jobs and tried to find a better job but didn’t have the education.

Based on the evidence, the appellate court couldn’t say there was an abuse of discretion at the lower level. The evidence showed she’d tried to develop skills but had been stopped by the CPS requirement. The lower court had ordered alimony that would terminate in five years. The husband argued that this was too long. The appellate court overruled this issue on the basis that the lower court had heard evidence it would take her five years to finish an educational program while also having a job and taking care of kids. It affirmed.

It is important to secure legal representation for divorce proceedings to make sure your rights are protected. If you need to get a divorce, contact the Texas attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

More Blog Posts:

Grandparents Seek Court-Ordered Visitation in Texas, April 20, 2017

Texas Spousal Maintenance for a Disabled Spouse, March 17, 2017