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O'Quinn v. O'Quinn

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

August 31, 2017

SHERRIE L. O'QUINN, Appellant,
MARK W. O'QUINN, Appellee.

         On appeal from the 378th District Court of Ellis County, Texas.

          Before Justices Rodriguez, Contreras, and Benavides.



         By three issues, appellant, Sherrie L. O'Quinn (Sherrie) challenges the trial court's order awarding her spousal maintenance pursuant to her divorce from appellee, Mark W. O'Quinn (Mark). Specifically, by three issues, Sherrie contends (1 and 2) the trial court erred in limiting the amount and the duration of her spousal maintenance award; and (3) the basis for the spousal maintenance is vague because it fails to reference Sherrie's disability. We affirm.

         I. Background[1]

         After approximately twenty-seven years of marriage, Sherrie and Mark separated in December 2012. In March 2013, Sherrie filed for divorce. Following a bench trial in June 2016, the trial court issued a divorce decree on August 24, 2016. In addition to dividing the parties' community assets and liabilities, the decree ordered Mark to provide $600 monthly spousal maintenance to Sherrie for six years. In October 13, 2016, the trial court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law. This appeal followed.

         II. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         We review the trial court's decision to award spousal maintenance for an abuse of discretion. See Lopez v. Lopez, 55 S.W.3d 194, 198 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2001, no pet.). Under the abuse of discretion standard, legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence are not independent grounds for asserting error; however, they are relevant factors in assessing whether the trial court abused its discretion. Pickens v. Pickens, 62 S.W.3d 212, 214 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2001, pet. denied). In determining whether an abuse of discretion has occurred because the evidence is legally or factually insufficient to support the trial court's decision, we ask: (1) whether the trial court had sufficient information upon which to exercise its discretion; and (2) whether the trial court erred in the application of its discretion. Gonzalez v. Villarreal, 251 S.W.3d 763, 774 n.16 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2008, pet. dism'd); In re T.D.C., 91 S.W.3d 865, 872 (Tex. App.- Fort Worth 2002, pet. denied). The sufficiency review is related to the first inquiry. In re T.D.C., 91 S.W.3d at 872. If it is revealed in the first inquiry that there was sufficient evidence, then we must determine whether the trial court made a reasonable decision. Id.

         In making our determination, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the actions of the trial court and indulge every legal presumption in favor of the judgment. Smith v. Smith, 115 S.W.3d 303, 306 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2003, no pet.). The trial court does not abuse its discretion if there is some evidence of a substantive and probative character to support the decision or if reasonable minds could differ as to the result. Id. at 305.

         Findings of fact entered in a case tried to a court have the same force and dignity as a jury's verdict upon special issues. Pickens, 62 S.W.3d at 214. Therefore, we apply the same standards when reviewing the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's fact findings as we do when reviewing the evidence supporting a jury's answer to a special issue. Id.

         Spousal maintenance is an award of "periodic payments from the future income of one spouse for the support of the other spouse." See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.001(1) (West, Westlaw through 2017 R.S.). The purpose of spousal maintenance is "to provide temporary and rehabilitative support for a spouse whose ability for self-support is lacking or has deteriorated over time while engaged in homemaking activities and whose capital assets are insufficient to provide support." Deltuva v. Deltuva, 113 S.W.3d 882, 888 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2003, no pet.) (citing O'Carolan v. Hopper, 71 S.W.3d 529, 533 (Tex. App.- Austin 2002, no pet.)).

         A trial court may exercise its discretion to award spousal maintenance only if the party seeking maintenance meets specific eligibility requirements. Pickens, 62 S.W.3d at 214-15. Section 8.051 of the family code provides, in relevant part, that a trial court may order spousal maintenance for either spouse "only if the spouse seeking maintenance will lack sufficient property, including the spouse's separate property, on dissolution of the marriage to provide for the spouse's minimum reasonable needs and, " among other things, the spouse seeking maintenance "is unable to earn sufficient income to provide for the spouse's minimum reasonable needs because of an incapacitating physical or mental disability[.]" Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.051(2)(A) (West, Westlaw through 2017 R.S.).

         Courts consider several factors in determining spousal maintenance. See id. § 8.052 (West, Westlaw through 2017 R.S.). These factors include: the financial resources, age, employment history, earning ability, and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance; the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking maintenance to earn sufficient income; the contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse; the contribution of a spouse as homemaker; any history or pattern of family violence; and the comparative financial resources of the spouses. Id.

         The term "minimum reasonable needs" is not defined in the family code. Slicker v. Slicker, 464 S.W.3d 850, 860 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2015, no pet.). A trial court determines whether a party's minimum reasonable needs are met ...

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