The steps to take in order to win spousal maintenance in a Texas divorce

When it comes to issues that people have the most questions about, I think spousal maintenance is probably one of the most popular. If you are going through a divorce it is likely that the thought has crossed your mind as well.

How could you wind up receiving a sum of money from your spouse after your divorce has been finalized? On the other hand- how could your spouse put you on the hook for payments to him or her? No matter what side of the fence you are seated on you should be aware of what the relevant laws in Texas are and how they can affect you and your family moving forward.

How easy is it to get spousal maintenance ordered by a judge?

Let me start by telling you that most divorces in Texas do not end up going before a family court judge. The vast majority of cases wind of settling before a trial. Be it in mediation or in informal settlement negotiations between you and your spouse the odds that you and your spouse go before a judge and have a good old fashioned divorce trial are slim to none.

Television and movies would make it appear that every single lawsuit that is filed goes to trial. Your friends and relatives may have also told you horror stories about divorce trials that have gone wrong. Block out their stories, and instead focus on the likelihood of your case going to trial as being very, very low.

With that said, spousal maintenance is by definition ordered by a judge in a divorce trial. The order to pay spousal maintenance is made against the will of either you or your spouse. However, be aware that just because a judge can order that spousal maintenance be paid either by you or to you, it is not a slam dunk that it will occur.

Even if you are ordered to pay spousal maintenance the amount that you are on the hook for is not likely to be a huge sum of money. First of all, a judge cannot order you to pay money that you don’t have. Second of all, the law limits the amount of money that you would be responsible for paying on a monthly basis. There are limits to how much and how long you have to pay spousal maintenance for. There are also conditions that can go into place after the divorce that can eliminate your need to pay at all.

A pretty common question that I often field in consultations is whether or not you can receive maintenance from a person that you were never married to. As it has become more common to live with and have children with a person that you did not marry this is increasingly becoming a relevant question. The answer is that there is no way that you can receive spousal maintenance from a person that you were never married to.

What is the basis for the limits on spousal maintenance?

Texas was one of the last states in the country to create a law that allows for the payment of spousal maintenance as ordered by a judge. The circumstances that allow for spousal maintenance to be ordered are quite limited, on top of the hesitancy with which most judges in Texas order spousal maintenance.

If you are in a position where you believe that you may have to pay spousal maintenance at the conclusion of your divorce you can take solace in the knowledge that spousal maintenance, if ordered, does not last forever and there is a limit to how much you can pay per month.

One of the key reasons, in my opinion, why the law in Texas is fairly restrictive when it comes to the ability of judges to award substantial amounts of spousal maintenance is that our state is known as a community property state. This means that all property at the time of divorce is presumed to be jointly owned by both you and your spouse and is therefore subject to division in the divorce.

Even if you have never worked a day in your marriage you have just as much of a claim to any of that community property as does your spouse. Think about real estate, personal property, income, bank accounts, investment, retirement accounts- these are all examples of community property that you have a right to even if you did not contribute one dime.

In many states, the property is divided up according to which spouse went out into the world and earned the property. Texas is not like that. You are not thought to be less of an owner of that big 401(k) just because your name doesn’t appear on the account or because your income never contributed to its growth.

For these reasons, the law in Texas is more restrictive when it comes to spousal maintenance because it is thought that because the state allows the “non earning” spouse a great chance at retaining as much of the community estate as possible, their need for additional sums of money are not as great.

Self-sufficiency is the goal of temporary spousal maintenance

It should not surprise you that our state’s laws are based on the idea that it is better for you to be able to provide for yourself and your family rather than to rely on another person or the government. Call it self sufficiency, call it bootstrapping, call it the American spirit of hard work. It is best for you to be able to go out and find work after your divorce than to be reliant on payment from your ex-spouse.

Spousal maintenance payments are temporary and help you to get back into the job market, earn a certification, go back to school for a short time, etc. Once you have done what you have to do in order to be more attractive in the jobs market the spousal maintenance should have just about run its course. Of course, lawmakers realize that by receiving any amount of money you could be disinclined to go out and find work at all. That is another reason why the laws restrict how much spousal maintenance you can receive and for how long you can receive it.

Can you agree to some form of payments to be made with your spouse?

Yes, you can settle on some type of payments to be made from you to your spouse or vice versa after your divorce has concluded. There are no requirements that you be married for ten years or for the duration/amount of the spousal maintenance if you and your spouse agree to this outside of a trial.

The agreement to pay alimony is like a contract made between you and your spouse and the law treats it as such. Keep in mind that whatever you write into your final decree of divorce when it comes to alimony will be what a court reviews if you or your spouse need to file an enforcement or modification lawsuit in the future.

I would tell you that knowledge of the laws regarding court-ordered spousal maintenance can help you to be able to create workable settlement terms for your agreed to alimony. For instance- how long do you want the alimony to last? How much should you stand to receive per month? How is your ex-spouse supposed to pay you? These are all details that you need to work out in case one of you needs to go back to court for any issue related to alimony.

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