If you have a disability it is understandable that a lot of your life is spent thinking about and planning for the future. It’s probably fair to say that you also spent a lot more time thinking about a divorce and whether or not it was the right thing for you to enter into. After all, while your marriage may not have been the happiest there was a certain degree of security that the relationship afforded you, financially and otherwise.
Despite those concerns you decided to move forward with the divorce and now your case is almost done. You’ve negotiated a settlement with your soon to be ex spouse that will keep you from having to go into a courtroom and have a judge decide how your life would play out. Part of that agreement centered around an award of spousal maintenance due to your being disabled and being unable to work and earn an income. You know from experience that this wasn’t easy. Being able to prove to your spouse that your minimum needs could not be met by your income alone was tough to do but it helped you all avoid a trial.
Now the question is, how long can this support actually last? Texas is not a state that encourages parties to pay support to one another after a divorce, absent a disability or something similar. The divorce comes to a close and you receive spousal support payments for the agreed up on length of time but your disability persists and doesn’t go away like your doctors had hoped. What sort of rights do you have to continue to receive spousal support?
A story of two divorced people can help us discuss this issue more in depth
Suppose that we take two persons who were divorcing and had to go to trial to have a judge issue rulings on all the aspects of their case- the children, the family home, property and spousal support. If the wife was disabled at the time of the divorce a judge may order spousal support to be paid- a certain amount for a certain period of time. At the end of that set period of time, the wife’s disability still lingered and she filed a motion to modify with the court that heard the divorce. Her argument was that a modification of the divorce decree is necessary due to her disability having not dissipated as expected.
The court would most likely look to the Texas Family Code section 8.054(a) or (b) to determine whether or not the order of spousal maintenance should be continued. Under subsection (b), the judge would look and see whether or not his intention was to allow for the support award to be modified upon the request of a party. Subsection (a) is more cut and dry- this portion of the law puts a limit on how long a court can award spousal support for. If it is determined by a judge at the time of the divorce that a spouse is permanently disabled then it is likely that subsection (b) would have been applied which makes it possible to continue the spousal support beyond whatever time period was ordered initially.
Look to your divorce decree to see what the intention of the court was in ordering support initially
This same idea would hold true in your situation as well. It would be smart to look to your divorce decree and see how the language reads in the section having to do with the award of spousal support. If it is clear that the award was purposefully limited in terms of years of duration then it will be tough road to hoe in terms of getting this spousal support extended out. However, it is appears that the judge in your case intended to give you every opportunity in the world to have the spousal support award reevaluated down the line then you may have grounds to argue for an extension.
Advice on handling the issue of spousal support at the conclusion of your divorce
If you believe that it will be necessary to come back to this issue of spousal support after your divorce has long since concluded it is important to be able to have the wording of your divorce decree reflect the uncertainty of your disability and how it may impact your ability to provide for yourself. If the judge issues his orders from the bench after a contested trial do not assume that your ex spouse and his/her attorney will interpret the decision of the judge in the same manner you are. You and your attorney need to look over the section of your decree dealing with spousal support with a fine-toothed comb in order to ensure that your rights to be able to come back and modify the order are protected.
This can be done by making sure your attorney is attentive and deliberate in their unwillingness to sign an order that is not reflective of the judge’s intent when it comes to spousal support. Both sides to a divorce will typically submit their own versions of the decree to one another and the two sides will agree to include language that best reflects the decision of the judge. If you and your ex spouse cannot agree on language, the two attorneys would head to the courtroom to discuss the issue with the judge. Going to these lengths can be absolutely necessary when it comes to protecting your future right to modify any final decree of divorce.
Questions on Family Law in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If your ability to receive spousal support is critical then you will want to make sure you have an experienced and professional attorney to represent you. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are happy to meet with you and discuss your particular situation at a free of charge consultation. One of our licensed family law attorneys is available to meet with you six days a week at your convenience.