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
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
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.