Unless children are involved in a divorce, the number one concern of parties is typically money. Who’s getting more of it and what can be done to limit their spouse from getting any more than they absolutely have to.
There are some spouses who are a little more rational and even-handed in terms of their willingness to just split the pie in two and walk away, but from my experience those situations are few and far between. Divorce is not a time for people to be rational thinkers, unfortunately.
Thus, having an experienced family law attorney on your side to help you walk through the difficult days of your divorce can be exceedingly important. Your attorney shouldn’t just be an expert on family law in Texas- he or she should be able to offer you candid, reason based advice during a time where your emotions and your ability to negotiate and work with your spouse is at an all time low.
You may be surprised to learn that the vast majority of divorces in Texas settle before getting to a trial. The reason has a lot to do with attorneys and their clients coming together to put aside their animosities and settle their case based on their own particular facts and circumstances.
One area that can draw the ire of many divorce participants is the subject of spousal maintenance. After going through a difficult and emotionally taxing divorce, the last thing many people want to think about is either paying money to your ex-spouse or relying upon your ex-spouse to help pay the bills in your home.
Be that as it may, Texas law does allow for spousal maintenance and it is something that you should be aware of before you file for divorce yourself.
Today I would like to discuss with you all a recent divorce case out of the Houston area that was appealed before one of our State appellate courts. The case, Willis v. Willis, can be looked up online with the citation No. 14-15-00913-CV.
It dealt with the award of spousal maintenance based on the ability of a spouse to present evidence which showed what their minimum basic needs were.
Background on the Willis family
The parties to this case were married in 1995 and had three children together. Two of the three children were special needs children, and the mother had medical issues as well that required advanced care. The mother also receives supplemental income from the Social Security Administration.
A divorce was filed by Mother and the case went to trial. Mother and father had been separated at the time of trial and the children were living with Mother. Ultimately, both Mother and Father testified and the court entered a Final Decree of Divorce after the trial concluded.
The father took issue with the results of the trial and appealed the judge’s verdict. The father argued that the court made an error in how it divided the community estate, in ordering the father to pay mother $972 in spousal maintenance each month, and finally that because mother only asked for a lump sum money judgment against the father or the spousal maintenance, she should not be able to collect both.
Since this blog is about spousal maintenance, let’s leave behind the property division question and focus our attention on the court’s analysis of the spousal maintenance award.
Spousal Maintenance on Appeal- How did the Court of Appeals rule?
The father’s argument to the Court of Appeals basically went like this: the trial court made an error in awarding any spousal maintenance to the mother because she did not present sufficient evidenced to show that she would not be able to meet her minimum basic needs based on the property awarded to her in the divorce. Remember- she was on a fixed income with social security and was not able to work otherwise.
Just as an aside- although courts in Texas are empowered with the ability to award spousal maintenance as a result of a divorce, it is not common and judges typically do so only in fairly extreme circumstances.
Not only must the marriage must have lasted for more than ten years, but the spouse who is awarded spousal maintenance must lack any ability to provide for their minimum basic needs either by working or by the property awarded to him or her in the divorce.
The mother testified during the trial that she believed she was capable to providing for her and her children’s basic needs. This belief was made in large part due to her ability to live without having to pay rent at her mother’s house. Her expenses totaled nearly $1,500 per month based on information she provided the judge. Between child support and social security income for herself and her children she totaled about $2,500 in income.
All of this was in addition to the $60,000 awarded to her in the division of the marital estate.
When you take into consideration that the judge ordered the $60,000 was to be paid on a monthly basis at $1,000 per month, the money did not work out such that she would not be able to meet her and the kids’ basic monthly requirements without spousal maintenance.
It would be tight around her home, but that isn’t a consideration that the court is able to make when potentially awarding spousal maintenance.
Ultimately, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the father and the spousal maintenance award was done away with.
What can you take away from this case?
Given that this was a fairly recent case, and is from the fourteenth court of appeals in Houston you can expect that this standard will be followed in your southeast Texas divorce case.
Evidence must be fairly substantial to be awarded spousal maintenance in Texas, as this mother learned. If you wish to be awarded spousal maintenance it is in your best interest to work with your attorney early on to be able to prove what your monthly expenses are and to show how and why you are not able to meet those needs on your own.
Questions about spousal maintenance? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about spousal maintenance please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. You can schedule a free of charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys six days a week where your questions can be answered. We represent clients across southeast Texas and we would be honored to speak to you about doing the same for you and your family.
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding Divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Child Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our Divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.