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In re Marriage of Elabd

Court of Appeals of Texas, Tenth District

September 4, 2019


          From the County Court at Law No. 2 Brazos County, Texas Trial Court No. 17-000880-CVD-CCL2

          Before Chief Justice Gray, Justice Davis, and Justice Neill



         In three issues, appellant, Yossef Elabd, complains about the final divorce decree signed by the trial court. Specifically, Yossef argues that: (1) the evidence is legally insufficient to support the trial court's determination that appellee, Sonia Elabd, is entitled to spousal maintenance; (2) the trial court abused its discretion by awarding Sonia $1, 500 per month in spousal maintenance; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion by making a disproportionate division of the community estate. Because we overrule all of Yossef's issues, we affirm.

         I. Spousal Maintenance

         In his first issue, Yossef complains that the spousal-maintenance award is not supported by legally-sufficient evidence. Specifically, Yossef contends that because the trial court made no findings concerning Sonia's minimum reasonable needs, and because no such findings can be implied from this record, Sonia was not entitled to spousal maintenance. We disagree.

         A. Applicable Law & Standard of Review

         Spousal maintenance is an award of "periodic payments from the future income of one spouse for the support of the other spouse." Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.001(1) (West 2006). The purpose of spousal maintenance is "to provide temporary and rehabilitative support for a spouse whose ability to self-support is lacking or has deteriorated over time while engaged in homemaking activities and whose capital assets are insufficient to provide support." O'Carolan v. Hooper, 71 S.W.3d 529, 533 (Tex. App.-Austin 2002, no pet.).

         Section 8.051 of the Family Code governs a spouse's eligibility for spousal maintenance. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.051 (West Supp. 2018). As relevant to the instant case, section, 8.051(2) provides that a spouse is eligible to receive spousal maintenance if the spouse seeking maintenance:

(A) is unable to earn sufficient income to provide for the spouse's minimum reasonable needs because of an incapacitating physical or mental disability;
(B) has been married to the other spouse for 10 years or longer and lacks the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for the spouse's minimum reasonable needs; or
(C) is the custodian of a child of the marriage of any age who requires substantial care and personal supervision because of a physical or mental disability that prevents the spouse from earning sufficient income to provide for the spouse's minimum reasonable needs.

Id. § 8.051(2). It is undisputed that subsection (B) is the sole provision of section 8.051(2) that is at issue in this case. Id. § 8.051(2)(B).

         There is a rebuttable presumption that maintenance under section 8.051(2)(B) is not warranted unless the spouse seeking maintenance has exercised diligence in developing the necessary skills to provide for the spouse's minimum reasonable needs during a period of separation and during the time the suit for dissolution of the marriage is pending. Id. § 8.053(a)(2) (West Supp. 2018). The term "minimum reasonable needs" is not statutorily defined. Slicker v. Slicker, 464 S.W.3d 850, 860 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2015, no pet.) (citing Cooper v. Cooper, 176 S.W.3d 62, 64 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2004, no pet.)). Rather, minimum reasonable needs is a fact-specific inquiry, which the courts determine on an individualized, case-by-case basis. Id. (citing Amos v. Amos, 79 S.W.3d 747, 749 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2002, no pet.)).

         We review an award of spousal maintenance under an abuse-of-discretion standard. Dunn v. Dunn, 177 S.W.3d 393, 396 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2005, pet. denied). A trial court abuses its discretion when it rules arbitrarily, unreasonably, without regard to guiding legal principles, or without supporting evidence. Id. Under the abuse-of-discretion standard, legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence are not independent grounds for asserting error, but they are relevant factors in assessing whether the trial court abused its discretion. Id. Because of the overlap between the abuse-of-discretion and sufficiency-of-the-evidence standards of review, we engage in a two-step analysis to determine whether the trial court (1) had sufficient information on which to exercise its discretion and (2) erred in its application of that discretion. Day v. Day, 452 S.W.3d 430, 433 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2014, pet. denied). "In determining the first prong, '[w]e 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. (quoting Dunn, 177 S.W.3d at 396).

         To prevail on a legal-sufficiency challenge on an issue for which the opposing party had the burden of proof, the complaining party must show that there is no evidence that would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to reach the verdict under review. City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 827 (Tex. 2005). When reviewing a legal-sufficiency challenge, we consider all of the evidence supporting the judgment, "credit[ing] favorable evidence if reasonable jurors could, and disregard[ing] contrary evidence unless reasonable jurors could not." Id. We consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the findings and indulge every reasonable inference that would support them. Id. at 822.

         B. Entitlement to Spousal Maintenance Under Section 8.051(2)(B)

         As noted above, Yossef asserts that the spousal-maintenance award should be reversed because the trial court did not make sufficient factual findings with regard to Sonia's "minimum reasonable needs" in its findings of fact, and because the award cannot be supported by presumed findings under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 299. See Tex.R.Civ.P. 299. Rule 299 governs whether we may presume omitted findings of fact to support a judgment. Id. Specifically, Rule 299 provides:

When findings of fact are filed by the trial court they shall form the basis of the judgment upon all grounds of recovery and of defense embraced therein. The judgment may not be supported on appeal by a presumed finding upon any ground of recovery or defense, no element of which has been included in the findings of fact; but when one or more elements thereof have been found by the trial court, omitted unrequested elements, when supported by evidence, will be supplied by presumption in support of the judgment. Refusal of the court to make a finding requested shall be reviewable on appeal.

Id. In other words, if a party secures an express finding on at least one element of a ground of recovery or defense, then deemed findings may arise as to the balance of the elements. See Howe v. Howe, 551 S.W.3d 236, 245 (Tex. App.-El Paso 2018, no pet.) (citations omitted); see also Smith v. McDonald, No. 12-12-00165-CV, 2013 Tex.App. LEXIS 11769, at ...

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