Once a court determines that a spouse is eligible to receive maintenance in a divorce case, it must then analyze all relevant factors to determine the nature, amount, duration, and manner of the periodic payments. One of those factors includes the spouse’s ability to provide for his or her “minimum reasonable needs” independently, considering his or her financial resources.

But what does that mean?

Determining a spouse’s minimum reasonable needs is a fact-specific determination made by the trial court on a case-by-case basis.[1] Although the law does not define “minimum reasonable needs,” the stated legislative purpose is to provide a spouse with a temporary rehabilitative measure to enable the spouse to become self-supporting.[2]

To determine a spouse’s minimum reasonable needs, the court must first examine the evidence presented at trial regarding the expenses and property of the spouse seeking maintenance.[3] Expenses may include mortgage payments, utilities, car payments, insurance, medical expenses, and groceries.[4]

Beyond a spouse’s expenses and property, the court may examine a variety of other factors impacting a spouse’s earning ability, such as mental health. For example, in one case, a court awarded spousal maintenance in the amount of $3,500 per month for ten years based on evidence that the wife, whose only source of income was Social Security, suffered from anxiety and low self-esteem following the parties’ 40-year marriage.[5]

Physical impairment may also be considered, such as the case where the trial court awarded maintenance to the wife in a 10-year marriage who testified at trial that she was diabetic, blind, and therefore unable to work while raising the parties’ daughter.[6]

A spouse’s educational background also impacts his or her ability to earn, as another case shows where the wife in a 14-year marriage was entitled to maintenance while she completed her education. The court reasoned that the wife could not support herself while working full-time at minimum wage and also taking classes full-time to finish her degree.[7]

As illustrated above, a trial court has broad authority to consider a wide variety of factors when determining a spouse’s minimum reasonable needs and/or his or her ability to meet those needs, including expenses, property, mental and physical health, and education. The spouse must present evidence at trial to prove both his or her expenses as well as any barriers preventing the spouse from being able to pay those expenses. It is also important to remember that a spouse’s inability to meet his or her minimum reasonable needs is only one of the factors the court will consider when awarding spousal maintenance, and evidence supporting the other determinative factors must also be presented.

[1] Matter of Marriage of Hale, 975 S.W.2d 694, 698 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1998, no pet.); Lopez v. Lopez, 55 S.W.3d 194, 198 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2001, no pet.).

[2] Acts of June 13, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S. ch. 655, § 10.01(a), 1995 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. ch. 655 (formerly codified as Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 3.9601, repealed by Acts of April 17, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 7, § 1, 1997 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. ch. 7).

[3] See Petra v. Petra, 2010 WL 374388, *2 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2010, no pet.) (mem. op.).

[4] Chafino v. Chafino, 228 S.W.3d 467, 475 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2007, no pet.); see also Amos v. Amos, 79 S.W.3d 747, 750 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2002, no pet.); Stafford v. Stafford, 2005 WL 3201894 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2005, no pet.) (mem. op.).

[5] Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 8.051(2), 8.052, 8.053. Slicker v. Slicker, 464 S.W.3d 850 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2015), reh’g overruled, (June 25, 2015).

[6] Ayala v. Ayala, 387 S.W.3d 721 (Tex. App.—Houston 1st Dist. 2011), reh’g overruled, (Aug. 26, 2011).

[7] Alexander v. Alexander, 982 S.W.2d 116 (Tex. App.—Houston 1st Dist. 1998).

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.