Spousal Maintenance in a Texas Divorce: Should I be worried?

Spousal Maintenance in a Texas Divorce: Should I be worried?

I think we all have a family member, friend of neighbor who has told us horror stories about their divorce. By God, they went through a divorce that would make a lesser man or woman beg for mercy and leave the country never to return. Their experience was that bad. If that person doesn’t have any children, it’s most likely that their bad experience was due to their being ordered to pay some sort of money to their ex spouse. A common payment that can be ordered by a court is called spousal maintenance. What is spousal maintenance, exactly? The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan would like to provide you with an overview of spousal maintenance in Texas and if it is something you should be concerned with in your divorce.

Spousal Maintenance essentials for a divorcing Texas

The purpose of filing for divorce and then proceeding through the courts in the State of Texas is to ensure that at the end of the divorce you and your spouse have entered into a fair and equitable arrangement (either by agreement or judgment) by which to divide your marital estate and responsibilities/time with your children. Spousal maintenance is a part of that process. Movies, TV and your cousin out east may call it alimony but Texas law refers to it as spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance are payments made from one spouse to the other upon the finalization of the divorce. The payments are made on a monthly basis for a specific period of time as laid out in the final decree of divorce. Often times spousal maintenance is ordered during a divorce and then is cut off once the parties are actually divorce. Other times the maintenance is ordered for a extended period after the divorce has concluded.

What situation most commonly results in some amount of spousal support being ordered?

From my personal experiences, spousal maintenance is not commonly agreed to or ordered by a court. For example, I was handling a divorce case for a client in Montgomery County this past Spring where our client was the wife. These were older folks, both over the age of 60, but the wife was still working and earning a very good income. The opposing party was in his 70s, retired and earning only social security. In mediation the husband aggressively pursued spousal support to a degree that our client had no choice but to say no. In the temporary orders hearing it came out that while our client was earning a great income, she was also stretched very thin due to the husband’s modest income going towards his personal “upkeep” and hers going towards bills. The judge rendered a decision where our client was to pay no spousal support at all but had to keep paying her share of the bills during the marriage.

The bottom line was that: 1) our client had no excess money that she could pay to her soon to be ex husband in spousal maintenance, and 2) that while our client earned much more than her spouse, he too had an education and the aptitude to find work despite his being over seventy years old. This should tell you that judges are not too excited to award spousal support in most situations.

Probably the most common situation where spousal support is either agreed to by the parties or ordered by a judge is when a mother or father has remained at home with the children rather than seeking their own education or income. When a divorce occurs their having no job, no education and few skills to support themselves and the children will typically lead to spousal support being awarded.

Are all spousal maintenance arrangements the same?

In short, no- there are a couple different types of spousal maintenance that are available under Texas law. We’ve touched on each already but let’s discuss them in greater detail.

The first type of spousal maintenance is contractual. There are no laws that specifically govern or mandate contractual spousal maintenance. Any married persons are eligible for contractual spousal maintenance because any spouses with the financial ability to pay and receive spousal maintenance may enter into a binding contract to do so. The above scenario involving the stay at home parent who needs some degree of income after the divorce is a perfect example of when spousal maintenance is contractually entered into by divorcing spouses.

This is not a situation where the spousal maintenance is agreed to be paid until the receiving spouse dies. It is usually agreed to for a fairly limited amount of time in order to allow the receiving spouse to get an education to re-enter the workforce or to apply for jobs in the immediate time period after the divorce has been finalized.

The downside for the spouse who is set to receive contractual spousal maintenance is that because there are no “requirements” that they receive the support their right to receive it is largely dependent on their ex spouse’s ability to pay. This is true even if the parties have come to an agreement and that agreement is ratified in their final decree of divorce. I have had a client whose spouse agreed to pay her $2,000 a month in spousal maintenance from the month after their divorce was finalized until her death. About five years into that agreement he told her he was going to stop paying. The judge unfortunately ruled that because that amount of child support would never be ordered by him, he could not hold the ex husband in contempt of the order for having violated it. That is tough pill to swallow for any person who had become dependent on receiving those monthly payments

Part Two of our series of blog posts on spousal maintenance is upcoming

If this blog post on spousal maintenance has interested you, please tune in tomorrow for another post that details court ordered spousal maintenance as well as other issues surrounding this subject.

Questions about spousal maintenance or any other area of family law? Please feel free to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week. We will work to answer any question you have and discuss our office and the services we can provide to clients in an informal, comfortable setting.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan
Spring Divorce Attorney
Located at: 3707 F.M. 1960 W,
Suite 400,

Houston, TX 77068
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