Spousal maintenance – or alimony – in Texas is reserved for those situations in which divorce leaves one spouse without the financial ability to continue supporting themself – or whose ability to support themself was diminished in relation to their role as a homemaker.
The intent behind spousal maintenance is to provide “temporary and rehabilitative” support, and its application is limited to specific circumstances. If you have questions or concerns related to spousal support, a seasoned Killeen divorce attorney who has extensive experience handling complex alimony issues can help.
The Spouse Seeking Alimony Has the Burden of Proof
The spouse who seeks alimony is tasked with demonstrating that they have a financial need and that they exercised the necessary diligence to accomplish one of the following financial outcomes:
Obtain the skills necessary – during separation or while the divorce is pending – to provide for their own needs
Even if the spouse seeking maintenance otherwise qualifies, they must either prove that they exercised the required diligence as listed above or successfully rebut the presumption that alimony is not warranted.
The Facts of the Case
In a recent Texas Court of Appeals decision, a husband appealed the trial court’s final divorce decree on the issue of his ex-wife’s award of spousal maintenance and the issue of reimbursement to the marital estate for the value enhancement to his separate property. To better understand this case, review the relevant details listed below:
The couple married in 2009.
They had two minor children at the time of their divorce.
The husband had two minor children from another marriage at the time the two married.
The wife was named the shared children’s conservator in the divorce, which gave her the right to determine their primary residence.
The husband did not challenge the terms of child custody or child support.
At the time of the divorce, the husband was a successful partner in a Texas law firm.
The wife was also an attorney but had not practiced law during their marriage. Instead, she had focused on caring for the four children and home.
While married, the couple lived in a home the husband had purchased prior to marriage.
The evidence presented in court supported the fact that the husband controlled the couple’s finances throughout their marriage.
The husband filed for divorce in January 2021 but proceeded to nonsuit the filing before filing a second petition in April 2021.
The trial judge conducted a bench trial in October 2021 that lasted three days.
Ultimately, the judge granted the couple a divorce based on insupportability, or irreconcilable differences. The wife was assigned a disproportionate division of marital property, and the husband was ordered to pay $2,500 per month in spousal maintenance for a duration of four years.
Every divorce case is unique, but they are all complicated. Get the legal assistance of a skilled Killeen divorce attorney to help you through the intricacies of your case.
The Husband Challenges Spousal Maintenance
The husband challenged the trial court’s award of spousal maintenance to his ex on the grounds that there was no evidence that the statutory requirements for maintenance were met.
The award of spousal maintenance is reviewed by appeals courts in the context of abuse of discretion, which means that such awards are only modified or overturned if the trial court acted “arbitrarily, unreasonably, without regard to guiding rules and principles, or without supporting evidence.”
In this case, the trial court was tasked with applying a two-pronged test to determine if both the following applied:
The trial court had enough information to apply its discretion.
The trial court did not err in the application of its discretion.
In this case, the burden of supplying sufficient evidence fell to the wife. This means that, on appeal, the husband was tasked with demonstrating that the wife failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s findings.
The appeals court then considered whether the evidence in question would lead reasonable people to reach the same judgment that the trial court did. As such, the appeals court considers only evidence that would convince a reasonable factfinder, and that evidence that would not convince a reasonable factfinder is not.
All evidence is considered in the light that is most favorable to the trial court’s findings, and every inference that supports its findings is indulged.
Application of the Evidence
Once it’s determined that the trial court has sufficient evidence to proceed, the appeals court determines whether the trial court arrived at a reasonable conclusion based on the available evidence. Only if the trial court’s determination is deemed unreasonable or arbitrary will the appeals court intervene.
Ordering Spousal Maintenance
Trial courts have only “very limited and very narrow” circumstances in which they are authorized to award spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is designed to be “an award in a suit for the dissolution of marriage of periodic payments from the future income of one spouse for the support of the other spouse.”
The legal motivation is providing financial support to a spouse who lacks the ability to maintain self-support – or whose self-support “has deteriorated over time while engaged in homemaking activities and whose capital assets are insufficient to provide support.”
Alimony determinations are often dependent on the case you and your seasoned Killeen divorce attorney present to the court. Work closely with your legal representation to build your strongest possible case and protect your financial rights.
The Husband’s Rebuttal
In the case at hand, there was no disputing that the couple met the minimum standard of ten years of marriage. Further, the husband did not argue with the trial court’s finding that the wife lacked the ability to earn an amount sufficient to address her minimum reasonable needs.
Instead, he argued that his wife failed to disprove the presumption that spousal maintenance wasn’t warranted. This legal standard requires providing sufficient evidence of exercising necessary diligence regarding one of the following efforts:
Attempting to earn sufficient income to provide for minimum reasonable needs
Pursuing the skills necessary to provide for minimum reasonable needs during separation and while the divorce was pending
Failure to prove one or the other results in a rebuttable presumption that spousal maintenance isn’t required, which – in turn – must be successfully rebutted before alimony can be awarded.
The Wife’s Efforts
The wife testified to all the following preparations during the divorce proceedings:
In 2020, she took and passed the initial course necessary for licensure to sell real estate in North Carolina, where she was considering relocation post-divorce.
She then took one of three required additional courses and registered for the second and third courses, which she was scheduled to complete by the end of 2021.
Completing these courses would also reduce the coursework she would need to take if she chose to obtain a real estate license in Texas.
Completing these courses would leave her ready to take her Texas real estate exam in January 2022 – if she were to remain in Texas post-divorce.
She had also completed the ethics course she needed to reactivate her license to practice law in Washington, D.C.
In addition, she’d met with a career counselor, was polishing up her resume, and had explored educational opportunities for other career paths.
The appeals court found that this evidence was sufficient to find that the wife exercised the diligence necessary to earn sufficient income to provide for her own reasonable needs.
Caring for the Children
The wife testified that, upon marriage, she’d ceased working outside the home to concentrate on caring for the couple’s children and the two children her husband brought to the marriage.
Facilitating Her Husband’s Career
There was also sufficient evidence to support a determination that the wife’s homemaking efforts facilitated her husband’s ability to build a successful legal career.
This case clearly demonstrates the importance of gathering evidence and building a strong case in defense of your financial rights. Contact a skilled Killeen divorce attorney to prepare a case that will protect your financial health post-divorce.
At the Time of Divorce
At the time of the divorce, the wife was 47 years old and hadn’t worked outside the home in 10 years. She testified that she didn’t currently qualify to practice law or to sell real estate in Texas. Further, she couldn’t get pre-approval for a mortgage without both child support and spousal maintenance payments.
She also reported that she didn’t have adequate independent assets to either purchase or pay rent for a home that was suitable for her and their children. Her financial planner reported that, even if she earned a salary of $60,000 per year, her resources would likely be exhausted within 15 years.
The appeals court found that this evidence was sufficient to rebut the presumption against spousal maintenance. As such, the husband’s first issue with the trial court’s ruling was overcome.
The Husband Challenges the Reimbursement Claim
The husband also challenged the court’s determination that the marital estate had a right to reimbursement for improvements made to the home he purchased prior to marriage, which they used as their family home during the marriage and which was deemed the husband’s separate asset.
The husband asserted that when the trial court awarded his wife reimbursement, it abused its discretion based on a lack of evidence regarding the value of any improvements made.
The appeals court found that considerable latitude must be afforded to trial courts in determinations related to the application of equitable principles regarding reimbursement. If there is some evidence in support of the trial court’s ruling, no abuse of discretion can be found.
While trial courts do have considerable discretion, they abuse this discretion when they act arbitrarily or unreasonably.
The Rule of Reimbursement
The rule of reimbursement is based solely on equitability. When the funds from one estate benefit another without receiving a benefit in return, the right of reimbursement arises.
Here, the trial court found that the marital estate required reimbursement from the enrichment of the husband’s separate estate. The right of reimbursement pertains to fairness rather than an interest in a specific property.
In order to receive reimbursement, the spouse requesting it must establish all the following:
That one marital estate contributed to another
That the contribution in question was reimbursable
That a value can be assigned to the contribution
In this case, the husband called only the value of the contribution into question.
The Value of the Benefit
In order to put a value on the contributions being considered for reimbursement, the enhancement in value to the benefitted estate must be measured.
This valuation is accomplished with evidence of the asset’s value prior to the improvements being made and the asset’s value after. This value is best determined by presenting a fair market value of the property as it is at the time of divorce and a fair market value of the property at the time of divorce if the improvements had not been made.
In this case, a professional in the field of reimbursement valuations placed a range of values on the improvements made to the house – based on the square footage added by enclosing a screened porch and transforming it into a living space. The trial court landed on an amount at the higher end of this range.
The Husband’s Argument
The husband argued that his wife had insufficient evidence to support the value assigned by the trial court because no value was calculated before the improvements were made. He extrapolated that an evidence-based assessment of benefits couldn't be made without a valuation based on the home prior to improvements.
The Ruling of the Appeals Court
The appeals court noted, however, that the appropriate value of the enhancement comes down to the value with the improvements and without, which the wife’s calculation accounted for. The market value assigned by the third-party appraiser sufficed in terms of evidence, and the trial court’s use of a value within the range provided was within its discretion.
As such, the appeals court overruled the husband’s complaint and affirmed the trial court’s rulings.
An Experienced Killeen Divorce Attorney Can Help
Brett Pritchard is a trusted divorce attorney at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas,. Mr. Pritchard has the legal savvy to help you obtain divorce terms that support your rights and work for you and your children. Learn more by contacting us online or calling us at (254) 781-4222 today.