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Texas Appeals Court Reverses Spousal Maintenance Due to Insufficient Evidence

Courts may award spousal maintenance to provide temporary and rehabilitative support to a spouse who meets specific statutory requirements in a Texas divorce case.  Generally, the spouse requesting maintenance cannot have enough property to meet his or her minimum reasonable needs and must meet other statutory requirements.  A spouse seeking maintenance must overcome a presumption that spousal maintenance is not warranted.  This presumption can be rebutted if the spouse requesting maintenance shows that he or she was diligent in trying to earn enough income to provide for his or her reasonable needs or in developing the necessary skills to provide for those needs during separation and while the case was pending.  The spouse seeking maintenance must make this showing even if the other spouse does not participate in the case.

A former husband recently challenged the spousal maintenance awarded to his wife following a trial he did not participate in.  The couple had been married nearly 15 years when they separated.  The wife filed for divorce about a year later.  The husband was served, but failed to answer or appear.  The trial court held a short hearing and granted the divorce.  The court also awarded the wife the family home, retirement from her husband’s income, retirement in her own name and two vehicles. The court also ordered the husband to pay $500 spousal maintenance per month.

The husband appealed the spousal maintenance award.  He argued the trial court abused its discretion because there was insufficient evidence that the wife lacked the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for her minimum reasonable needs.  He also argued there was no evidence to rebut the presumption against awarding maintenance.  Additionally, the award was made in perpetuity.  Finally, he argued the award was greater than the statutory maximum.

Only the wife testified at trial. She testified the husband had a logging business during the marriage, but she did not know if he was currently working.  She testified that he had trucks and logging equipment and asked that one of the trucks be awarded to her.  She further testified about his income, which she said included $900 per month from Social Security and $200 per week for working at a church. She asked that his 401k account be awarded to her because she had given the money in her own 401k to the husband during the marriage.

The wife testified that she got $800 per month in Social Security. She earned between $300 and $500 per month at a job where she only worked when the employer called her to come in.  She testified she needed $500 per month for her expenses. She said it was fair for her to receive spousal maintenance because the husband made more money than she did and was at fault in the breakup.

Pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code Ann . § 8.051, the wife in this case would have to show that the couple had been married for at least 10 years and that she lacked sufficient property and the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for her minimum reasonable needs.  Furthermore, under the circumstances here, there is a rebuttable presumption against maintenance.  To rebut the presumption, the wife would have to show she had exercised diligence in either earning sufficient income to provide for her reasonable needs or developing skills to provide for her minimum needs during the separation and pending case.

On appeal, the husband argued there was no evidence of the wife’s diligence.  The wife argued her testimony that she worked when needed by the employer and received Social Security income sufficiently rebutted the presumption.

The husband was challenging the legal sufficiency of the evidence that supported the trial court’s exercise of its discretion in awarding spousal maintenance.  Evidence is legally insufficient, if there is no evidence of a vital fact, if the court is barred from giving weight to the only evidence of a vital fact, there is only a scintilla of evidence of a vital fact, or evidence conclusively proves the opposite of the vital fact.  If the evidence allows reasonable and fair-minded people to reach different conclusions, then it constitutes more than a scintilla of evidence.

The wife had not presented evidence regarding her job skills or any efforts she had made to earn a higher income or work more hours.  She also did not present evidence of any efforts to develop her skills.  She did not provide evidence related to any limitations she may have had that would limit her ability to work more hours or getting more lucrative employment.

The appeals court found there was less than a scintilla of evidence that the wife had been diligent in earning sufficient income to provide for her minimum reasonable needs.  The appeals court also found there was “a complete absence of evidence that she was diligent in developing the skills necessary to meet those needs.”  The court therefore found the evidence was legally insufficient to overcome the presumption against spousal maintenance.  The appeals court reversed the spousal maintenance award, but otherwise affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

In this case, the husband successfully challenged the award despite not participating in the trial.  When both spouses participate in the trial, they have the opportunity to present their own evidence and challenge the evidence presented by the other party.  When a party does not participate, he or she does not have those opportunities.  If you are facing a divorce, an experienced Texas divorce attorney can assist you in protecting your rights and assets.  Call McClure Law Group today at 214.692.8200 to schedule a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Texas Appeals Court Reverses Property Division Due to Lack of Evidence

Diligence and Spousal Maintenance in Texas Divorces

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