If the most common question that we receive at our office regarding spousal maintenance and contractual alimony is how long a spouse can receive this type of support after a divorce, the second most common question is how much money the person can get. There is a cap on court-ordered special maintenance in Texas set up in the Texas family code. The amount of special maintenance that a judge may order you to pay your spouse involuntarily cannot be more than 20% of your average monthly gross income or $5000, whichever is less.
Generally speaking, quartz will order spousal maintenance to be paid for the shortest period possible that would allow your spouse to get back on their feet after a divorce. Consider that your spouse may have been out of work for many years, may have stopped their education midway from taking care of children, or any other circumstances that may have limited their financial wherewithal. As a result, if there is truly a need for spousal maintenance to be paid, then a court will still want to order that lasts for as short an amount of time as possible.
Are there caps on how long spousal maintenance can be paid based on the length of your marriage?
Generally speaking, the length of your marriage determines how long special maintenance can be paid. An exception to this rule would be family violence. If a court finds that you or the victim of family violence by your spouse, then it does not matter if you were married for a minimum of 10 years to receive spousal maintenance ordinarily. In those circumstances, you could receive special maintenance for no longer than five years, even if you were not married for at least 10. Otherwise, there are caps for the length of time that special maintenance may be ordered in a Texas divorce.
Marriages that lasted for at least 10 years but no longer than 20 mean that up to five years of special maintenance can be awarded. Marriages lasting between 20 and 30 years translate into special maintenance awards of no longer than seven years. If you were married to your spouse for 30 years or longer, you might receive up to 10 years of special maintenance. However, if you or your child is disabled, then there is no cap on the length of a special maintenance award as long as the disability is in place and as long as your spouse cannot work, then special maintenance can be ordered. Be paid.
How can you enforce a court order for spousal maintenance?
Suppose your spouse successfully convinces a judge that spousal maintenance needs to be paid to them, then your spouse would still need to make sure that they can enforce that order in the future. Keep in mind that the judge or a police officer will not constantly monitor you and your spouse moving forward to ensure that the special maintenance is paid. It would be who’ve your spouse to be able to have a court order that allows for them to enforce the pronouncement on spousal maintenance if you refuse to pay.
Enforcement of spousal maintenance means that your spouse would file a lawsuit seeking to uphold the terms contained in your final decree of divorce this parcel maintenance. Possible punishments for the failure to pace vessel maintenance in the future include court fines, attorney fees, and even jail time in extreme circumstances. However, there is no sure thing when enforcing any portion of a final decree of divorce, especially when that portion regards special maintenance.
The reason why is that you can file a counter lawsuit and ask the court to reduce the amount of spousal maintenance you have to pay or eliminate it if a material and substantial change has occurred in your life or that of your spouse you may be able to have your spousal maintenance obligations significantly reduced. An example of a substantial and material change will be that you are having problems or have been unable to meet your monthly expenses due to a reduction in your income or if you haven’t outright inability to pay special maintenance for any number of reasons.
There are also defenses available to you as the spouse who is ordered to pay special maintenance. First, you could argue that you could not provide the spousal maintenance amount the court-ordered. This is pretty straightforward. What you would need to do is offer evidence showing that you have had a significant reduction in income or a reduction in your ability to pay spousal maintenance due to any other cause. For instance, if you have subsequently had children with a new partner and those children require medical care or other financial assistance that is more immediate of a need than spousal maintenance, then you may be able to offer this as a defense for not paying the spousal maintenance is ordered.
Next, you could argue that you’d had insufficient property; it could be sold to raise funds necessary to pay for spousal maintenance. This is a tougher argument to make, in my opinion, because the Community property laws in Texas call for a fairly even split of Community property in most horses. In many other states, spouses who typically earn more than the other will be awarded more of the Community property as a general rule. With that said, Texas does not adhere to similar laws or principles, and therefore I think this is a weaker argument to try to make in most scenarios. However, if you and your spouse own little property and entered into the marriage with little in the way of the property, you may be able to make a successful argument.
Third, you could argue that you could not borrow the necessary money to come up with the funds to pay special maintenance. Nobody wants to incur debt, period one of the most popular resolutions I heard people make last year was to reduce or eliminate all of their debt so that the next time a situation like a pandemic comes around, they will be prepared. However, I have seen it ordered in certain divorces where a spouse will be ordered to attempt to inquire about loans to pay for various expenses, including special maintenance. If you do not have a credit score, do not have a job, and find yourself in a position where you cannot be loaned sufficient money to pay spousal maintenance, you can present this argument in court.
Finally, you can argue that you were unaware of any sources other than your income from which to pay special maintenance. On its face, this would seem to be the least compelling of all the arguments. You would be arguing that you were unaware of any sources from which you could obtain the necessary money to pay special maintenance. With so many sources out there for you to earn an income and borrow money sufficient to pay the maintenance requirements, I don’t see this as being a solid argument, but under the law, in Texas, it is available for you to make in court.
What are the circumstances that would lead to an elimination of your obligation to pay spousal maintenance?
There are certain circumstances under the law in Texas that would eliminate any future need to pay spousal maintenance. A fairly straightforward example would be if you were to pass away. By the same token, if your ex-spouse receives the spousal maintenance or passes away, the application to pay would also end. Your errors cannot be ordered to pay special maintenance, nor can the heirs of your ex-spouse appeal to a judge to receive any spousal maintenance that your ex-spouse had previously been receiving.
If your ex-spouse were to remarry, then your obligation to pay the spousal support would end. It does not matter the circumstances under which they were to get married or if their new spouse earns an income. Having another person available to contribute to the household would eliminate your need to pay spousal maintenance. Keep in mind that spouses have an obligation under Texas law to support one another financially, and this would eliminate your need under your final decree of divorce spouse financially.
The most interesting and seemingly difficult way to prove that spousal maintenance obligation should be illuminated is to argue that your ex-spouse is living continuingly in a permanent place of residence with another person with whom they are engaged in a romantic relationship. In other words, you would need to argue that your ex-spouse has started living with the person in a dating relationship within the same home. Having to make this argument can be tricky. You would need to present evidence that not only are the two people living together and have been doing so continuously, but they are in a dating relationship.
What happens if you do not have the money to pay for the required special maintenance?
Not having the necessary funds to pay this vessel maintenance he will order 2 make each month is a reasonable position to find yourself in. This does not mean you are a bad person or are neglecting your responsibilities, but it just means you could have run into some bad luck or found yourself in a tough financial spot after the pandemic. As I have mentioned in a prior blog post, the family court judge in your divorce should have done a thorough examination to determine whether or not you have the wherewithal and ability to pay special maintenance moving forward. In cases where a spouse does not financially meet the requirements to pay special maintenance, they may wind up having a disproportionate share of their community estate awarded to their spouse instead. It is unlikely that you will be ordered to pay spousal maintenance and have a disproportionate share of your community estate go to your ex-spouse.
Keep in mind that the impact of your asking for spousal maintenance can impact your life moving forward. Even if you can convince a judge that you should be paid spousal maintenance as a result of your divorce, you may be harming your future relationship with your ex-spouse. That may not matter to you all that much right now as you are getting through a divorce, but in the future, I can almost promise you that having a good relationship with him or she will be important not only to you but to your children. I have seen relationships forever harmed due to misguided attempts to win benefits like special maintenance. Consider your actual need before pursuing this in a divorce.
What is contractual alimony, and do you have a chance to get it in your divorce?
So far, we have been discussing spousal maintenance in detail during our blog post. Now I would like to discuss the other type of post-divorce spousal support known as contractual alimony. As opposed to spousal maintenance, contractual alimony is voluntary as far as it is paid, how much will be paid, and how long it will last. I would also like to discuss what circumstances can come into play as far as having but the responsibility to pay contractual alimony set aside. Keep in mind that contractual alimony is voluntary and therefore requires you and your spouse to agree on it rather than have a judge order these payments involuntarily.
To become eligible to receive contractual alimony, there are no legal requirements in the Texas family code. The main requirement that must be in place for contractual alimony to be played is simply having the financial resources necessary to do so. If you and your spouse find yourself in a position where one of you needs support after the marriage, and there is the financial availability to do so, then set up an agreement whereby one of you pays the other a certain sum of money for a certain length of time in addition to child support. The specific terms of the agreement should be worked out in detail so that clear expectations are moving forward about responsibilities on both sides.
Keep in mind that contractual alimony is not fun money to be spent on just anything. For your spouse to show a true need for the money, they would have to show you that paying a mortgage, rent, utilities, and simple necessities for the children would not be met immediately after the divorce for this contractual alimony. Also, sometimes your spouse may need to complete education to have a chance at landing a job that pays well over a long period. Keep in mind that the wise move maybe 2 they agree to pay some money up front to pay for college or finish a degree rather than to pay a little bit of money over a long period.
If you were responsible for paying contractual alimony and your spouse were to pass away, then the obligation to pay ends. However, one important thing to keep in mind is that the responsibility to pay contractual alimony does not come to an end if your ex-spouse were to get married or were to begin cohabitating with a new partner. If you want to put certain conditions on the payment of contractual alimony, you should specify those conditions in your final decree of divorce so that no doubt or ambiguity is moving forward.
The difficult part of agreeing on contractual alimony is that it is not as simple to enforce a contract for alimony as it would be to enforce orders for spousal maintenance from a judge. Keep in mind that the rules of Texas contract law govern a contractual alimony agreement rather than the rules of family law. Your family court judge would apply these laws well beyond the basic parameters to receive spousal maintenance or contractual alimony. A court would treat you owe of contractual alimony as a debt in debt collection laws may also apply. If your contractual alimony award extends beyond a period of 10 years, then it becomes unenforceable by a family court judge.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about what you just read in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way to learn more about your case and family law in Texas. Our family law attorneys serve proudly on behalf of our clients in the family courts of Southeast Texas and would be honored to speak with you about doing the same for you and your family.