Do you need spousal maintenance in Texas?

Money and divorce. They go hand in hand. Or, perhaps more accurately, a divorce is more like a siphon for your money. No matter how you want your divorce to end, everyone wants their divorce to be inexpensive. Imagine heading into a divorce with the hope that your case would be the most expensive in the neighborhood. That would be wacky, indeed. We all want to save money in life. Everyone wants to save money in a divorce. Put those twin motivations together and you have a recipe for what so many people want: a quick, easy, and inexpensive divorce.

However, you also need to look at the situation from the perspective of how to accomplish your goals in the divorce, as well. True enough saving money may be the first goal that comes to mind. However, certainly, there are worthwhile goals beyond merely saving money. Your children, your property, and your lifestyle are goals worthy of consideration. To that end, figuring out how to plan your divorce matters. Not having a plan is almost surely going to cause you to experience a longer and more expensive divorce than you otherwise might need to withstand.

This is where the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan come into play. We know how to work with people just like you who are going through a divorce. In doing so, we can help you focus on your goals while maintaining an eye on your budget. In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we spend time looking at a critical area of your life after divorce. That being spousal maintenance.

Paying spousal maintenance after a divorce 

Many people who get divorced or are unfamiliar with spousal maintenance. The more common term people utilize for post-divorce spousal support is alimony. Paying alimony is a concept well-established in popular culture. Even if you know nothing about divorce you likely are at least familiar with the concept of alimony. Images in our popular culture focus on rich husbands paying their ex-wife an exorbitant amount of money and alimony. Is this at all accurate?

Certainly, spousal maintenance is paid in divorce cases. Spousal maintenance is a type of court-ordered spousal support. It was introduced into the Texas Family Code in 1995. From that time forward, judges were able to award spousal support after the divorce. However, this is possible only in limited circumstances. Those limited circumstances tend to involve marriages that have lasted longer than 10 years. Additionally, the paying spouse must be able to afford the spousal maintenance.

Despite what you may have heard in movies and television shows, spousal maintenance is not a sure thing in a divorce. It is our experience that judges are hesitant to award spousal maintenance if it can be avoided. Therefore, having an experienced council by your side in the divorce is critical to your success. Working with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan to assist in your spousal maintenance circumstance is important. We represent clients on both sides of the spousal maintenance equation. Whether you one spousal maintenance or one to prevent spousal maintenance, we are here to serve you.

Be prepared to justify your request for spousal maintenance

As just mentioned, spousal maintenance is not generally ordered in Texas divorce cases. It is much more likely that spousal maintenance will not be awarded in your divorce. This is true for several reasons. For one, the law limits the receipt of spousal maintenance to only eligible parties. These spouses are those who have been married for relatively long periods. Additionally, you must have a proven need to receive spousal maintenance.

Determining the length of your marriage is not difficult. What comes next is more complicated. Namely, being able to show a judge that you need for spousal maintenance. All of us can remember the basic home economics lesson we learned back in elementary school. Specifically, determining what a “need” is versus what a “want” is. Many of us talk about our ones like they are the same as our needs. In a divorce scenario, a judge will not confuse your needs and your wants.

Rather, the judge will take seriously your request. However, a judge also considers the totality of your circumstances and determines whether to award spousal maintenance. Being prepared to make a solid argument for spousal maintenance needs to be a central focus for you and your attorney. Going to court and expecting a judge to take one look at you and immediately order spousal maintenance is unlikely. For this reason, having an experienced family law attorney makes a major difference in the quality of preparation put into a case.

Spousal maintenance is not available for unmarried couples 

One of the more common questions that we are asked from unmarried people involves spousal maintenance. Even though marriage is referenced right in the name, we will be asked questions about whether an unmarried person may receive spousal maintenance. Or, at least whether there is some sort of equivalent for non-married couples. The answer in this scenario is that spousal maintenance is only available for married individuals. 

However, child support is available for children no matter the married or single status of their parents. Negotiating child support is much different than negotiating for spousal maintenance. The circumstances and factors relevant are unique for each. With the best interests of the child, the standard determines child support. The state of Texas believes it is much more important for a child to receive financial support than an adult. Therefore, child support is awarded in almost every family law case involving children.

If you are considering marriage but are worried about a court awarding an exorbitant amount of spousal maintenance, then you should consider a premarital property agreement. These agreements can allow you and your fiancé to negotiate an amount of spousal maintenance to be paid in the event of a divorce. This way the two of you do not need to negotiate spousal maintenance while you are going through a difficult divorce. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are equipped to work on these subjects. Contact us today for a free-of-charge consultation no matter your specific circumstances in the world of Texas family law.

Specifics on who is eligible for spousal maintenance in Texas 

Eligibility for spousal maintenance begins at 10 years of marriage. The main exception to this rule is regarding spouses who have been convicted of a crime involving family violence. When you are unable to support yourself because of a mental or physical disability that is another exception to this ten-year rule. Finally, being the custodian of a disabled child will also allow you to receive spousal maintenance when you have not been married for 10 years or more. 

The court cares about your separate property. When it becomes apparent to a court that you are unable to provide for yourself, including out of your separate property, then spousal maintenance becomes a distinct possibility. In most cases, the marriage needs to have lasted for at least 10 years. Deferred adjudication or conviction of a crime involving family violence within the past two years is the other main exception. Finally, being disabled or caring for a disabled child is the next qualifying factor in the Texas Family Code for spousal maintenance.

Is there a cap on the spousal maintenance award?

Spousal maintenance is limited in Texas to either $5000 per month or 20% of the average gross monthly income of the spouse who pays spousal maintenance. What does gross income mean? Any kind of income that you may earn such as investment dividends, wages, salary, and overtime pay. Working with an experienced family law attorney it helps you to be able to make sure that a proper and thorough examination of your monthly resources is performed.

Can spousal maintenance last forever?

In short, spousal maintenance can last indefinitely in situations that involve disability. Either you are disabled, or you care for a child who is disabled. In these situations, spousal maintenance may be paid on an ongoing basis. Otherwise, the maximum number of years that spousal maintenance may be paid is 10. This is for people who have been married for 30 or more years.

Also, keep in mind that a court must limit the length of the spousal maintenance award to the least amount of time possible. The thought is that the spouse who receives spousal maintenance should only receive the award for the minimum amount of time that would allow him or her to begin to earn an income on their own. However, bear in mind that disability is a major factor in Determining how long spousal maintenance may be ordered. The specific circumstances you find yourself in are what matters in large part. An experienced family law attorney assists a great deal when it comes to helping you organize and present your case to a judge.

 Looking for work is important

Keep in mind, however, that there is a need for you to seek employment during this process. The court will presume that spousal maintenance is not needed in your situation. To rip up that presumption you must show that you have attempted to earn sufficient income to provide for your minimum basic needs. Another component of this question is going back to school to develop skills that allow you to earn sufficient income to provide for yourself. All of this is relevant in a spousal maintenance scenario. 

Be prepared to show this due diligence. This is done through keeping a record of jobs that you have applied for as well as proof of having enrolled in school. In some circumstances, a spouse who started but stopped school is now able to Go back and complete their degree or earn a certificate. Preferably this can be accomplished during your divorce. However, in some situations, you would need to continue with school past the divorce. This is where spousal maintenance comes in to fill those gaps and income.

Judges and their authority when awarding spousal maintenance

As with many issues in a divorce trial, a judge has the final say. Everything from whether to award spousal maintenance to how much and for how long it lasts is all answered by the judge. There are even possibilities for wage withholding orders as you would normally see in a child support context. Different scenarios play out in courtrooms where judges tend to be more sympathetic. This is if you present yourself as especially vulnerable. Or, if your spouse has done something to anger the court.

A key part of this discussion is looking at the amount of community property awarded in the divorce. The more community property you are awarded the less likely you are to be awarded spousal maintenance. The same rule applies to situations where you have a significant amount of separate property. Recall what we talked about at the beginning of this blog post. Namely, that judges would prefer to award a disproportionate share of the community estate versus ordering spousal maintenance.

What does a court consider to be important when awarding spousal maintenance?

There are several factors to consider when a court looks at the issue of spousal maintenance. We have already covered how the separate property of each spouse is one factor. On top of that, your ability and the ability of your spouse to provide for yourselves are compared. Consider a situation where your spouse has an advanced degree and a long history of earning a great income. At the same time, you have no job skills and no education. This is a situation that would favor ordering spousal maintenance so long as the marriage duration is long enough.

Another consideration is this spouse’s ability to pay spousal maintenance and child support simultaneously. In the eyes of the court, the priority is placed on child support. Therefore, when ordering spousal maintenance and judge must first make sure that you or your spouse have the financial wherewithal to pay both, if necessary. The best interests of a child come before the best interests of a spouse. This is the major factor when ordering spousal maintenance.

Fault in the breakup of the marriage is another issue to consider. For instance, if your spouse has committed adultery then this may assist you in being ordered spousal maintenance. Generally speaking, if the judge finds themselves upset at your spouse for any reason, then this may positively impact your ability to be paid spousal maintenance. Being able to prove a particular fault ground for divorce is a major factor.

A hypothetical situation to illustrate points about spousal maintenance

Let’s consider a situation where you and your spouse have been married for 25 years. At the very beginning of your marriage, you were the spouse who was working. You waited tables and worked as a secretary to help pay your husband’s medical school bills. It was hard work, but you happily did it to support your spouse.

Now, your husband is a successful physician. He owns his medical practice. After he filed for divorce last year you went through the range of emotions that many people do from their first served with divorce papers. However, your mind eventually went to a very reasonable place. Namely, whether you would be able to afford to live as a single adult. You had not done this in many years. You decided not to pursue a college degree because you felt like it was more important for you to support your husband primarily.

In a situation like this, spousal maintenance is very likely to be ordered. A court can consider past actions of yours which supported your spouse. Completing a previously started college degree would be reasonable here. Hopefully, the groundwork is laid in your situation to be successful in appealing to the court for spousal maintenance.

Final thoughts on spousal maintenance in Texas

Spousal maintenance is a complex subject that is impacted by a range of factors and circumstances. In a family law case, there are almost always situations that can money the waters. What you thought of as a very straightforward situation may become incredibly complex. At the same time, your life and financial security hangs in the balance. What can you do to protect yourself while advocating on your behalf?

Having a plan and being organized is the most straightforward way to have spousal maintenance be ordered. Working with an experienced family law attorney goes a long way toward helping present the best case possible to a court. Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day today with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

Considering a divorce? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today

The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law. Before signing a document or negotiating on a subject you do not know well, contact our office. We look forward to the opportunity of serving you during an important part of your life.

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Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC Today!

At the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, the firm wants to get to know your case before they commit to work with you. They offer all potential clients a no-obligation, free consultation where you can discuss your case under the client-attorney privilege. This means that everything you say will be kept private and the firm will respectfully advise you at no charge. You can learn more about Texas divorce law and get a good idea of how you want to proceed with your case.

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