Texas courts are entitled to award spousal support (also referred to as alimony) for a variety of reasons. Commonly, spousal support awards are considered in divorces with significant assets or when one party has a substantial earning ability. The most common factor considered when awarding spousal support is the court’s desire to allow the lower-earning spouse to maintain a standard of living similar to that enjoyed by the parties when they were married. Texas law also allows spousal support to be awarded in other circumstances. Alimony can be awarded in the event that one spouse has an injury or disability that would prevent them from earning enough to support their basic needs after the divorce. The Texas Court of Appeals recently affirmed a trial court’s decision awarding spousal support to a disabled woman whose current and future earning ability was reduced based on her disability.
According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the couple married in 1987 and were married for 30 years before the husband filed for divorce. There were no children from the marriage, so the divorce proceeding was centered on dividing the parties’ marital estate and the wife’s request for spousal support. According to the opinion, the couple did not share an extremely valuable marital estate, and each party earned less than $50,000 per year in annual gross income. The husband earned approximately 33% more per hour than the wife working as a heavy equipment operator. At trial, the wife was awarded spousal support in the amount of $450 per month from the husband for a period of 5 years following the divorce. The court found that the wife suffered from a disability that reduced her ability to work, and which would likely worsen with time, further preventing her from supporting her short-term needs after the divorce.
The husband appealed the judgment to the Texas Court of Appeals, arguing that the wife did not sufficiently prove that she was disabled and that her earnings ability was insufficient to support her short-term needs. Specifically, the husband argued that the wife received other assets in the divorce that she could liquidate if she needed to support herself after the divorce. The appellate court rejected the husband’s arguments, finding that the wife used the testimony of a credible medical expert to establish her disability and that the lower court’s decisions concerning spousal support were supported by the facts of the case and relevant Texas law. As a result of the appellate decision, the husband will be required to pay the spousal support in full unless other conditions are met which would remove his obligation.