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Married in a different state, divorce in Texas: a roadmap for mobile families

We live in a hyper-mobile world. This has been the case for some time. However, the pandemic seemed to jump this trend towards mobility into hyperdrive. Working from home used to be a terrific perk. Now it is a necessity for many people in the job market. We went from having to go into the office every day of the week to never having to do so. It felt like freedom if we were being honest with ourselves. What didn’t seem possible five years ago is within our grasp now. 

Time and location. We have more time to ourselves now in many ways. Travel time used to be reserved mainly for getting to and from work. Now travel is what we make of it. Want to go on a trip? Go ahead. Take your laptop and you can work from your hotel balcony in the mornings. Finish up your work tasks and have a leisurely lunch by the pool. That’s the fantasy, at least. Whether any of our realities match the fantasy is another story altogether. 

When it comes to our family lives those are impacted by this hypermobility as well. Long distance relationships? A thing of the past. Meeting someone online can lead to real romance now. Cheap flights and remote work are a match made in heaven. Our family lives have evolved through being able to relocate for various reasons. Among those various reasons are better quality of life. This is where today’s blog post topic comes into play.

I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could

Many of us Texans are not native to the Lone Star State. Our children may be but many of us are not. As a result, that means marriages that took place outside the State of Texas are now subject to the family laws of Texas. What does this mean for your family now? To illustrate this point more clearly, let’s run through a hypothetical situation involving two married people. 

John and Trish married one another in Missouri. When the pandemic hit, they both retreated home like the rest of us. However, their work was made to be permanently remote. Both had taken a liking to Texas and have family here. So, they moved to Texas three years ago with their two kids. The family has enjoyed their time in Texas. However, John and Trish’s marriage has not been so fortunate. 

John and Trish are getting divorced. Trish filed the paperwork, but John wouldn’t have been far behind. John is curious about how a marriage that started in Missouri can be finished in Texas. What about the differences in the laws? Will Texas courts apply the laws of Missouri? Or are Texas laws the ones that matter here? Stick around today to find out the answers. If you have questions about the material, we write about contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We can answer your questions and provide you with clear information. 

Moving is common- thinking about the consequences of a divorce is not

John and Trish are like so many of our neighbors here in southeast Texas. Not being born in Texas does not impede living here. They weren’t the first and surely won’t be the last Texans to have married in another state. Surely, they are not the last to have now gone through a divorce in our state, as well. What does this mean for their family? Most people do not think about these sorts of questions when a move occurs. Their reasonable concerns are finding a good place to live and helping the kids transition. 

Divorce laws in Texas are unique. This is true of every state in the country, though. Some states have family laws that are similar to one another, but most differ in significant ways at least in a few areas. The divorce laws of Missouri and Texas differ in several areas. One specific area where the states are different relates to how property is classified and divided in a divorce. Missouri adheres to common law principles of martial estate division. Texas is a community property state. 

For John, he is concerned with the idea of having to pay Trish money in alimony after the divorce. He has been told that this is an issue to watch out for. As a result, he comes into see the Law Office of Bryan Fagan with a handful of questions ready to go. Anything having to do with alimony or spousal support after the divorce is of interest to John. Our attorneys were able to walk him through his case. From there, he can apply the family laws of Texas to those circumstances.

The differences in state family court matters

 Make no mistake, where you file for divorce matters. The location of your marriage is not always important. It can matter but the court is going to honor marriages from other states. Where Texas law makes a difference is regarding divorce. A Texas court gains the ability to grant a divorce based on jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is the ability of a court to hold hearings, consider arguments, and make rulings on the subjects presented in court. 

Subject matter jurisdiction is when a court says that a party to a divorce must have resided in Texas for at least six months and in the county, you seek to file in for at least 90 days. So, if John and Trish had just moved to Houston a month ago the two of them would not have been able to qualify to have their divorce heard in Texas. They would have to wait to file in Texas. Or, they may be able to file for divorce successfully in their home state of Missouri. Different states have different laws on jurisdiction, as well. 

There is a distinction here that needs to be drawn. Just because a family court allows your divorce to proceed doesn’t mean that they will issue orders on important subjects. Examples of questionable subject areas are property division, debt division, and custody issues. Having subject matter jurisdiction but not personal jurisdiction means the divorce would be granted but these areas would not be ruled upon by a court. 

What does divorce in Texas mean as far as alimony and spousal maintenance are concerned?

One of the most important distinctions to draw between divorcing in Texas and another state is that Texas does not have alimony as in other states. In Texas, you can be ordered to pay alimony, but it isn’t called “alimony.” Rather, these payments of spousal support come across as spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance in a Texas divorce can only be ordered by a judge. This means that a trial needs to be held where the judge orders that spousal maintenance be paid. 

Texas also has something called contractual alimony. Contractual alimony is negotiated upon payment of support after the marriage between spouses. Keep in mind that a judge cannot order contractual alimony. Rather, this is something that is negotiated by you and your spouse. A benefit of contractual alimony is that you are not bound by the laws on spousal maintenance as far as the duration of the award. On the other hand, contractual alimony is enforceable under principles of contract law. Theoretically, this makes contractual alimony more difficult to enforce. 

There are many moving pieces when it comes to spousal maintenance and contractual alimony. Texas handles this subject differently than other states do. As a result, if you are basing what you know about post-divorce support on your understanding of another state’s laws then you are making a mistake. Positioning yourself well on this subject means having the advice of an experienced family law attorney. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are prepared to help you handle these subjects inside and outside court. 

What if your spouse files for divorce in another state?

Consider a situation where your spouse and you have lived in Texas, but you have family who live in Wisconsin. When your brother needs help with affairs related to the passing of your mother you agree to help him. Your husband understands that you are helping with your mother’s estate in Wisconsin. He is living in Texas. Once you have been in Wisconsin for a few months you decide to file for divorce in that state. 

This puts you in a bind. You can still try to file for divorce in Texas. An argument that your spouse did not move to Wisconsin but is just there temporarily may win in court. Besides your property, home and you are in Texas. The Wisconsin court may not agree to hear the divorce so long as you have filed for divorce in Texas. However, there is always a chance that your spouse’s divorce petition is heard in another state. This puts you in an unfavorable position as far as defending a divorce case across the country. 

Living in different states from one another

A divorce where you live in one state and your spouse lives in another is complex. There are multiple state laws on divorce to be aware of. One of the other considerations is the travel required for one spouse. We know that one of you is on the move to participate in the divorce. While some hearings and other events are conducted virtually these days that doesn’t mean every hearing is. For that reason, figuring out the details of divorce in different states is important. 

Determining jurisdiction is the name of the game here. Courts are apt to accept jurisdiction once a party has lived in the state for the requisite amount of time. This is the issue we ran into earlier when we talked about a Wisconsin divorce. Living in a state, even temporarily, is all you need to prove. There is nothing in Texas law that says a person must continue to live in Texas for a decade after the divorce to have them accept jurisdiction. 

Fortunately, a court would likely decline jurisdiction if your spouse just moved and filed for divorce there. For instance, there are states in the country where jurisdiction is established immediately. Meaning that there is no residency requirement for the courts in that state. However, if you and your spouse lived in Texas for your entire marriage and your wife moved to one of these “quick” divorce states then that would likely stick out to a judge. When you file for divorce in your true home state of Texas, likely, the court would likely not accept jurisdiction. Your Texas divorce would be able to move forward in a situation like that. Jurisdictional issues are tough to litigate and are expensive. 

Are you stuck in a court where the first petition is filed?

In a situation where you file for divorce in Texas, but your wife already filed for divorce in Missouri, are you stuck in the Show Me State? Not necessarily. You can file a motion in Missouri asking the court to decline jurisdiction in the divorce. This is sensible for reasons we already covered. Your property, witnesses, children, and other elements of the marriage are not in Missouri. Rather, they are in Texas. 

Be aware of what is going on in the marriage and be prepared to protect yourself. A spouse who has talked a lot about divorce and now wants to move “temporarily” should be watched carefully. Agreeing to allow your spouse to move for these reasons is a risky decision. If he or she does so to plan an out-of-state divorce is reasonable. Your best bet is to file for divorce in Texas quickly if that is what you want. Having an honest discussion with your spouse about their desires is reasonable. Do not allow your spouse to move without having an honest discussion with him or her first. 

It is a precarious position to be in as a spouse whose husband or wife wants a divorce. You don’t necessarily know whether your spouse is coming or going. This is enough to cause you to feel uneasy about the marriage and your future. Having an experienced family law attorney by your side to guide you is critical. Some elements of gamesmanship and strategy must be employed here. Failing to do so causes your spouse to gain the upper hand. An out-of-state divorce is not something you want to defend yourself from. 

Focusing on the divorce laws of Texas

With so many new residents in Texas over the past few years it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with Texas family laws. Do not assume that our laws here in Texas are the same as the divorce laws in your former state. Texans tend to do things differently in all aspects of life. Divorce is no different. We have unique laws on issues ranging from child custody to property division. Your lack of knowledge is something that can harm you. 

There are ways to learn about the divorce laws of Texas which involve some work. Going through the Texas Family Code is a direct route to gaining knowledge. However, these statutes are not direct in terms of how they are written. Rather, they tend to be rather convoluted and written in legalese. What you need is a source of information that is both helpful and understandable. 

The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are here to help you in a time like this. Our attorneys work inside the courtrooms of Texas each day on behalf of our clients. We serve people just like you in mediation and other negotiation settings, as well. Putting yourself in a position to be taken advantage of is not ideal. You need to work alongside an experienced family law attorney to avoid mistakes and bad outcomes. 

The blog for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan- a great place to gain knowledge

If you have questions about a family law matter please reach out to our office. We have a blog here on our website which focuses on interest and unique matters in family law. Looking at our blog posts provides you with a great jumping-off point as far as question-asking. When you have questions please contact our office. We have free-of-charge consultations available six days a week. Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with us here on our blog. We hope to see you again tomorrow as we post more relevant information about Texas family law. 

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan    

If you have any questions about the material contained 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. Interested in learning more about how your family is impacted by the material in this blog post? Contact us today.

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