Enforcing an Award of Spousal Maintenance in a Texas Family Law Case

Can I refuse to pay spousal support? In Texas, spousal maintenance, or alimony, is approached by the court with a similar gravity to child support obligations. If the court mandates spousal support post-divorce and you fail to comply, you risk being held in contempt of court. Contempt signifies a violation of a court order, punishable by fines or even imprisonment. However, if you encounter genuine financial hardships, you have the option to petition the court for relief. This could entail requesting a reduction or cessation of the spousal maintenance obligation altogether.

What happens if you agree to pay spousal support?

In Texas, when a judge orders you to pay spousal support after finalizing your divorce, it’s called spousal maintenance. However, it could happen that you agree on your own to pay spousal maintenance. This situation is termed contractual spousal alimony. You can negotiate with your spouse to pay contractual spousal alimony. This is in exchange for keeping a larger portion of the property in your community estate. Remember, the judge not ordering contractual alimony doesn鈥檛 mean they won鈥檛 approve its inclusion in your Final Decree of Divorce.

If your spouse was a stay-at-home parent, lost employment, or is self-employed and establishing a presence in the marketplace, you may encounter this situation. Spousal maintenance can ensure their financial stability for one, five, or ten years after your divorce, or any duration in between. Many parents need to go back to school to update their educational profile to apply for different job opportunities.

One key thing to remember about contractual maintenance is that while a court can enforce an order for it to be paid, it cannot enforce any amount beyond what it has the authority to order itself. So, it can enforce either $5,000 per month or 20% of your gross monthly income (whichever is less), and not a penny more. If you fail to pay the spousal maintenance and your ex-spouse files an enforcement motion against you, you can expect to go to court but cannot be held in contempt.

When can spousal maintenance be terminated?

Certain conditions may arise that terminate your duty to pay spousal maintenance to your ex-spouse. Be it ordered by a judge or mutually agreed to in mediation.

Simply put, if a court order that the spousal maintenance should cease (for any reason) the obligation is no more. Or, if you or your ex-spouse were to pass away then that obligation would also cease. Unless your Final Decree of Divorce states otherwise, your obligation to pay maintenance will end if your ex-spouse remarries. If a court finds that your ex-spouse has moved in with a romantic partner, they can also terminate spousal maintenance.

Can you be ordered to pay spousal maintenance on a temporary basis?

Temporary spousal maintenance is a real concept in Texas. It is commonly referred to as temporary spousal support. This type of award occurs with much greater frequency than does spousal maintenance. High-earning individuals may be ordered to pay temporary spousal support during their divorce. This is especially likely if your spouse is not a high-income earner.

Unless you agree to pay temporary spousal support in mediation, you would need to be ordered to pay this temporary support in temporary orders hearing. The support will be ongoing until a certain date specified in the temporary orders or until the Final Decree of Divorce goes into effect.

Temporary spousal support is much more fluid and flexible arrangement that is spousal maintenance. In a temporary orders hearing, if a judge determines that your spouse doesn’t earn enough to support herself and there’s no available money to bridge the gap, it’s likely that some degree of temporary spousal support will be ordered.

Keep in mind that temporary spousal support is relatively easy to get because the money that you would be paying to your spouse in support is technically both yours and theirs equally. The divorce has not yet occurred and the two of you are still married. Therefore, the money being paid is community property.

Property division in a community property state

Texas is one of a few states that have community property laws on the books. These laws are crucial in divorce. No preference is given to the higher-earning spouse or the one who contributed more to property or asset accumulation. Regardless of your profession鈥攂e it a doctor or stay-at-home parent鈥攜ou share property acquired during marriage.

When you marry, property acquired during the marriage becomes Community Property. This includes income earned from jobs, acquired through trade or purchase, or obtained in any other way. Remember, community property applies to debt as well, not just physical assets. Credit cards, home equity lines of credit, car loans and the like can all be considered community property.

Does it matter whose name appears on the loan or the title?

This is a common misconception regarding community property, so I want to address it directly before proceeding. Some come for free consultation. They thought if a loan is in their spouse’s name only, their spouse owns that debt. In the same way, if the house note is in their name only, they believe they own the house outright. However, it’s not that simple.

In actuality, it doesn鈥檛 matter whose name is on the house loan or on the title to the boat. As we just touched on, all that really matters is when. The property was acquired or the debt came into being. Putting only your name on the title and mortgage of a house bought during your marriage doesn’t make the house any less your spouse’s. The home would be considered community property and the house note would be considered community debt.

So, this should get you thinking about all those accounts that bear only your name or your spouse鈥檚 name and how that really doesn鈥檛 matter. Just because you have a separate bank account where your income goes into doesn鈥檛 mean your spouse doesn鈥檛 have a right to that income in the event of a divorce. Likewise, your spouse鈥檚 401(k) that contains retirement savings that were accrued 100% during the course of your marriage is technically just as much yours as it is hers.

Separate property versus community property

Since we’ve discussed community property extensively, I’d like to explain what separate property is. Property that was acquired prior to your marriage inherited property, gifted property or pain and suffering damages in a lawsuit are all considered to be the separate property of the person who owns the said property. All other property is community property. For that matter, all property is presumed to be community property under the law. It is up to you or your spouse to rebut that presumption and prove that property is either the separate property of you or your spouse.

A judge would look to when the property came into being as well as the nature of the money that was used to purchase the property in order to determine whether the property is separate or community in nature. For example, if you purchased a house one month before you and your spouse got married then that house is separate property. Your intent to make this your family home from the start of your marriage doesn’t matter.

Another example to consider involves you inheriting a ranch during your marriage. As we just learned, this property would be considered your separate property. However, if you and your spouse contribute money earned from your jobs for the upkeep of the property your spouse likely has a reimbursement claim to pursue if you were to later get a divorce. If your community income is used to pay the mortgage on a house that is your separate property, only the amount of money that was used to reduce the principal is reimbursable.

What about student loans?

Perhaps the most common form of debt incurred in our day and age is that of student loan debt. It is almost a given that you or your spouse have some sort of student loan debt hanging around. You may be wondering what a court would say if your spouse had student loans that were in existence from long before you got married. What would happen with these loans in your divorce?

It is important to find out how your spouse went about paying off these loans. If her aunt gifted the money to pay off the loans, then it constitutes separate property settling a separate debt. However, if the loans were paid off using income earned during your marriage, it means community property settled a separate debt. This applies whether the income came from your job or hers. If you divorce your spouse, she would need to reimburse the community for the funds used to pay off her student loan debt.

Commingling and divorce

If you own property that was formerly separate property but mixed it up with community property it can become difficult to distinguish separate from community property. If you deposited an inheritance from a relative into a jointly held bank account thirty years ago and then spent the money, it’s difficult to argue that the spent funds were your separate property.

How will the property be divided up by a judge in your divorce?

Now that we have discussed the ins and outs of separate versus community property, it would behoove us to figure out how a judge is likely to divide up your community property in the event that your divorce case goes to trial. This can be an extremely important question and one that has a lot of factors in play. As such, we will wait until tomorrow’s blog post before tackling this issue head-on.

Conclusion

If you’re wondering, “Can I refuse to pay spousal support in Texas?” it’s essential to understand the legal implications. In Texas, failing to comply with a court-ordered spousal maintenance obligation can result in contempt of court, potentially leading to fines or imprisonment. However, individuals facing genuine financial hardship can petition the court to reconsider their circumstances and possibly reduce or eliminate the spousal support amount. It’s crucial to navigate these matters carefully, seeking legal advice to ensure compliance with legal obligations while addressing financial challenges effectively.

Questions about the material that we covered in today鈥檚 blog? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material that we covered today or need clarification on something that we wrote about please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys are available six days a week to meet with you in order to answer any questions that you may have. We take a great deal of pride in representing people in our community just like you. Our attorneys are in the courtrooms of southeast Texas on a regular basis and are as effective at advocating for you in court as they are at negotiating settlements outside of it. Thank you for your time and consideration, and we hope to hear from you in the future.

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