In a recent Texas appellate case, a husband and wife filed cross petitions for divorce. The husband argued that the trial court had erred in awarding the wife $5000 each month in spousal maintenance. The wife argued that the trial court had made a mistake in not appointing her as managing conservator of their two children and for failing to grant her a divorce based on cruel treatment under Texas Family Code section 6.002. She also argued that the lower court had made a mistake in not reconstituting the community estate based on fraud.
On appeal, the husband’s sole issue was a challenge to the spousal maintenance award under Texas Family Code section 8.001(1). The appellate court explained that the purpose of spousal maintenance was to give temporary support to a spouse who has a lowered ability for self-support or whose ability to self-support has worsened during a period as a homemaker.
Under Family code section 8.051(2)(B), a spouse can receive maintenance if he or she doesn’t have the ability to earn enough money to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs. There’s a rebuttable presumption that maintenance isn’t appropriate unless the person asking for maintenance has used diligence to try to develop necessary skills during separation and during the time the divorce is pending.
Factors considered when determining if spousal maintenance is appropriate include age, employment history, financial resources, earning ability, physical and emotional condition of the spouse who is asking to be maintained, time needed to get education or training to allow for the ability to earn enough income, the contribution of a homemaker spouse, and the earning or education of the other spouse.
In this case, after the couple separated, the wife went back to college to try to get a master’s degree in nursing. The appellate court explained that the trial court could have found that the wife overcame the presumption that disfavors maintenance on the grounds that she showed diligence in developing needed skills to provide for her minimum reasonable needs by going back to college.
The record showed that the wife had put her career on hold during the four years she was married and became a homemaker. During that time the husband was able to attend and graduate from medical school and by the time of trial, he earned about $500,000 as a doctor. He denied family violence, but the wife claimed that he’d beaten her several times during the 14-year marriage, and that she hadn’t reported him to the authorities because she was afraid his career and reputation would be ruined.
The husband argued that the wife had gotten a bachelor’s degree in nursing prior to marriage and she could use that degree to meet her minimum reasonable needs. The appellate court explained that the wife hadn’t actually become licensed as a nurse due to getting married and getting pregnant. Therefore, it found that the lower court could find that her nursing degree from 14 years before the trial didn’t disqualify her from obtaining spousal maintenance.
The husband also pointed out she’d gotten gold worth about $250,000 as her share of the community estate and this was enough to meet her minimum reasonable needs. The appellate court explained that the wife did not need to liquidate her available community assets in order to meet short-term needs. She would need to go to 3-4 years of school to get her master’s, and during that time she would need to pay tuition and living expenses. It also found she needed mental health counseling for depression. The appellate court overruled the husband’s sole issue. For this and other reasons, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
If you are concerned about spousal maintenance, contact the Texas divorce attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.
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