Money isn’t everything but it is important when it comes to your Texas divorce

In the past few days, the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan have posted suggestions on how to improve your chances at being successful in your divorce case. Along with those suggestions on how to succeed in your divorce case, we can also say that avoiding mistakes and potential pitfalls in your case are almost as important. I hope that these series of blogs have been helpful and are causing you to feel more confident and better prepared to take on the challenge of divorce if you have come to the conclusion that this is the best decision for you and your family.

A topic that we have not yet discussed, yet is extremely important within the context of a divorce, is that of money. Not necessarily the division of money or assets in a divorce on a theoretical level, but money in every day, paying bills and keeping your head above water sort of way. I am asked this question all the time: how can an average Joe or Jolene pay for a divorce without going deep in debt or running into other financial hardships?

The answer is: it depends. Everyone reading this blog post is in a different position financially than your neighbor. Fewer and fewer people are working the sort of “standard” salaried, 9-5 jobs that our parents grew up with. The gig economy, contract jobs, part-time work, and self-made entrepreneurs represent a larger share of our economy than ever. That is what makes writing about this topic so difficult- no two people’s financial situation is exactly the same.

With that said, I believe it is so critical a topic that I decided to take that leap and write about it here. Remember that the topics and suggestions should apply to a wide range of folks but may not fit you and your situation exactly. Take what I write about here and apply it the best you can. I don’t think anything you are about to read would ever hurt you or put you in a disadvantaged position. As always, consult with one of our licensed family law attorneys if you have any questions or concerns about your situation based on the material that we are about to get into.

There’s a good place to go when you need money- your new job

For some of you reading this blog, you currently do not have an income because you are not working. That’s an ok plan as long as you are married to a person that is. In some families, this works out quite well. Maybe you have stayed home during the years to raise your children while your spouse has worked to earn an income to support you and the kids. We might refer to this as a traditional family arrangement.

Let’s jump forward in time and suppose that your spouse has filed for divorce and now you are holding the Original Petition in your hands. You are worried. A thousand questions are going through your mind, including how are you going to pay for an attorney. Once that thought has come and gone your next concern is finding a place to live- not only now but in the future. You haven’t worked since you were in your early 20s. You’ve never put together a resume. Your health insurance and source of daily funds are all through your spouse. What can you do to prepare and protect yourself?

It may seem simple but the best thing you can do for yourself is to find a job. It doesn’t have to be something that is going to be a long-term source of income. It could be something that does not appeal to you in the slightest. That’s ok. Nobody is asking you to find that once in a lifetime job immediately. What you need to do is find a job that can sustain you for the time being while you sort through your divorce and begin to plan for a post-divorce life that does not include your spouse’s income.

Working with a physical or mental impairment

Obviously, the caveat here is that you would need to physically be able to work. Unfortunately, you may be in a position that due to a disability you are unable to work. I don’t doubt that you would prefer to work and would find a job if you could. If you are truly unable to work it may be worth your while to pursue disability benefits under Social Security. It is through that process that you may be able to win disability benefits that will supply you with some kind of an income.

Otherwise, if you are able to work even with some difficulty I would recommend that you attempt to find something to do. The fact is that it is unlikely that unless your disability is so severe so as to force a judge’s hand to award you a substantial amount of spousal maintenance after your divorce, it is unlikely that you can expect the outcome of your divorce to land you in a position where you will not have to fend for yourself from a financial perspective. My point is this: if you have the ability to work it is in your best interests to do so.

Our area is fortunate due to having a large number of vocational counselors available to help you find work if you have a disability of some sort. A vocational counselor works with people to help them find jobs that they are well suited to perform due to a physical or mental disability. A simple internet search for the Houston area turns up many people that can help you in this endeavor. The State of Texas has resources available to you, as well, that can assist you in attempting to find work.

Spousal Maintenance is not a given in your divorce

What many people around the country refer to as alimony is called spousal maintenance in Texas. Spousal maintenance is a set up where your spouse would be ordered by a judge to pay you a certain sum of money on a monthly basis for a specific period of time. You must have been married to your spouse for at least ten years to be eligible to receive spousal maintenance. Furthermore, you must display an inability to provide for your minimal, basic needs without the assistance of spousal maintenance.

Having a disability will help you to earn spousal maintenance without a doubt. Also, if you are the caretaker for a child whose own physical or mental disability requires you to care for him or her and would keep you from working, this too would be a reason for a judge to award you spousal maintenance in your divorce. Another common scenario that can lead a person to be awarded spousal maintenance is a history of remaining at home while your hours were kept maintaining the home and raising children. Your efforts on the home front may have helped your spouse to earn a degree and income that otherwise would not have been attainable.

Keep in mind that absent any disabling factors, a judge would like to look to your willingness to look for work rather than receive spousal maintenance. You should be looking for at least some part-time work during your divorce in order to show a judge that you are willing to work if given the opportunity. Finally, remember that a judge does not have to award you maintenance sufficient to return you to a position where you would be living a quality of life that approaches your “old” life. All that is necessary is a level of subsistence where your minimal, reasonable needs are being met.

Finding a place to live outside of your marital home

For many spouses going through a divorce it is no longer workable to live in the marital home. There are typically a handful of reasons why this is: your spouse may be violent, the atmosphere at home may not be safe for you or your children, or you just plan no longer want to reside with a person who is attempting to divorce you. Whatever your reason, you ought to consider what your next “move” will be- both literally and figuratively.

If you are not working then the decision may have to be that you stay in the marital home until you can line up a place to live or find work to save up some money. It is not common that spousal support can be awarded in your divorce sufficient enough to pay for rent and daily living expenses. Our last piece of advice regarding finding work would dovetail into this piece of advice very well. If you are at all able to start saving up some money for an apartment or home to rent prior to filing for divorce then this is advisable.

Even if you are comfortable in the home and your spouse has no problem with you remaining there it may make sense for you to look for a place to move sooner rather than later if you think your spouse is going to be awarded the house in your divorce. For example, if you are conceding primary conservatorship of your child to your spouse then it is likely that she would be awarded the house in your divorce (if she can afford the mortgage payments). As such, it may behoove you to find a new place to lay your head since it can take a few weeks to line up a place and move your belongings.

Honestly assess your current financial state and do not spend more than you can afford

Some people I know live on a budget. Most people in my experience do not live on a budget. If you are one of those folks who has never really paid attention to how much money you spend or on what you are spending that money on, a divorce is a perfect time to begin doing so. Start tracking your monthly expenditures and organize the spending into categories so you can see how much you are spending and why.

Doing so will prepare you for a post-divorce life where it is likely that your income will decrease due to the loss of your spouse’s earnings. It is easy to have a couple months go by only to look up and see that your spending habits have not yet adjusted to your new financial circumstances. This disorganization is a recipe for the accumulation of debt and other financial maladies. Do yourself a favor and live on a budget and do not deviate from that budget.

Ask yourself if you really need to make this purchase. Is it going to improve your life in a sustained way What about the lives of your children? I believe doing so will eliminate a huge chunk of unnecessary spending since so much of your budget is purchasing food. Eating out isn’t so much fun or tasty once you realize that doing so will quickly eat (no pun intended) into your budget and provides your family with no benefit on a long-term basis.

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