In a Texas divorce, the court may, in its discretion, award spousal maintenance to a spouse who will not have enough property after the divorce to provide for his or her own minimum reasonable needs and meets one of the other enumerated conditions in the statute. One of those conditions is the inability to earn sufficient income to provide for minimum reasonable needs due to an incapacitating physical or mental disability. The determination of disability may be supported solely by the spouse’s testimony if it is sufficient and probative to establish there is a disability that prevents the spouse from becoming gainfully employed.
In a recent case, a husband challenged a spousal maintenance award by arguing there was insufficient factual and legal support for the award. The husband filed for divorce after about 14 years of marriage. The wife filed a counter petition and sought a disproportionate share of community property and spousal maintenance. The husband had agreed to pay $1,875 per month in spousal maintenance temporarily as part of the mediated settlement agreement.
At trial, the wife testified about a number of health conditions, including deteriorated discs in her back and neck, vertigo, diabetes, depression, and arthritis. She testified that she was 64 years old and had not worked in almost 20 years, since her neck surgery. She further testified she was unable to go back to work due to back and neck conditions. She submitted medical records from her treating neurologist documenting some of her conditions, symptoms, and medications.
She testified she had not applied for disability because her husband was able to provide for her needs. She said she did not have another source of income and would not be able to afford health insurance. She stated her conditions were incapacitating. She also stated she did not provide a medical opinion regarding her limitations because she could not afford to pay for a doctor. She asked for about $2,000 per month indefinitely.
The husband testified that he thought his wife could work and that he should not have to support her. He also stated he had trouble affording his own bills and could not afford maintenance.
The trial court found the wife had insufficient property to provide for her minimum reasonable needs and lacked the ability to earn sufficient income to do so, due to an incapacitating physical disability. The court found the wife had been married for more than 10 years and had not exercised diligence in developing skills to provide for her needs during the separation. The husband was ordered to pay $1,200 per month in maintenance for 60 months, or until the occurrence of certain events.
The husband moved for a new trial on the ground that there was insufficient factual and legal support for the judgment. The trial court denied the motion, and the husband appealed.
The husband argued the wife had provided no expert testimony or medical evidence showing she had an incapacitating disability. She had testified she was able to drive, bathe, attend church, and prepare meals for herself. He argued that these activities contradicted her claim that her conditions constituted an incapacitating disability.
The appeals court noted that the wife had relied on her neurologist’s records and her own testimony. She had testified she could neither sit nor stand for long periods, due to her neck and back conditions. She also testified that her ability to write was limited by her arthritis and tremors. The neurology records reflected diagnoses of vertigo, osteoarthritis in her ankle and foot, spinal stenosis, arthrodesis, and tremor. The records also noted that her sleep and daily living activities were moderately affected. The records included the results of MRIs and a nerve conduction study.
The appeals court found there was sufficient and probative evidence establishing that she had disabilities that kept her from becoming gainfully employed. The appeals court found the trial court had not abused its discretion in awarding maintenance to the wife and therefore affirmed.
This case shows that a spouse can prove a disability for the purposes of spousal maintenance without expert testimony. The experienced Texas divorce lawyers at McClure Law Group can help you protect your rights in a divorce action. Call us at 214.692.8200 to discuss your case.
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