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How long can spousal maintenance be ordered in a Texas divorce?

If you have been away from our blog for a little while then you probably missed the first few installments of our blog posts that cover the subject of spousal maintenance. Specifically, we have touched on the factors that lead a judge to award spousal maintenance to a party and issues that surround that topic. I would highly suggest that you go back and read those blog posts in order to get a better understanding of this topic before picking up with today’s blog.

In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC we will discuss the topic of how long spousal maintenance can be ordered to be paid in a divorce trial. Keep in mind that the rumors that you’ve heard when it comes to spousal maintenance are likely to be embellished and very much not true. Be careful about what you pay attention to and stick with us on this topic in order to learn information that could be critically important to your own divorce.

A judge will order spousal maintenance to be paid for the shortest time possible that will allow for a person to earn sufficient income in order to meet their expenses. Spousal maintenance is not a payment that is used to help you live a lifestyle that you had previously been accustomed to living or anything of that nature.

If you are disabled or otherwise unable to work, or you are responsible for the daily care of a child who is disabled then these factors can increase the years on which you can receive spousal maintenance payments. It is only under these circumstances that a judge can order spousal maintenance to be paid for an indefinite length of time. Often times a judge will create an order that requires the parties to return to court on a semi-regular basis to review the circumstances of each party and to determine if a continuance of the spousal maintenance is necessary.

In all other circumstances, you would be able to receive spousal maintenance for a maximum of ten years. This would be if you and your spouse were married for thirty or more years. For marriages that lasted between twenty and thirty years, the limit to the payments would be seven years; Between 10 and 20 years you would be looking at no more than five years of spousal maintenance. You can receive spousal maintenance for up to five years if you were not married at least ten years only if your spouse committed act(s) of family violence against you.

How can you hold your spouse accountable if he or she does not pay you the maintenance?

A big concern many people have as their divorce is closed out is what can be done after a divorce has been finalized as far as ensuring that their ex-spouse abides by the terms and orders contained in the final decree of divorce. It would be easy, these folks argue, for their spouse to listen to the order for a few months or even a few years and then to argue that a circumstance has changed or to simply stop paying according to the order. What can be done in order to enforce a alimony order?

Unfortunately getting a judge to order that spousal maintenance be paid to you for any length of time is just the first step in this process. It is all too common when it comes to this issue that you will have to come back to court in order to have your rights protected in an enforcement lawsuit. The remedies that are available to you are to hold your ex-spouse in contempt of court (for violating a court order). He or she would then be on the hook to pay a fine or face a period of time in jail.

If you were to need to file an enforcement suit against your ex-spouse he or she can always argue that the amount that he or she pays to you on a monthly basis needs to be reduced or completely eliminated based on a change in circumstances that have come to exist in your life and/or theirs. For instance, a reasonable request like this could be based on your going back to school, earning a degree and now being in a position to go out into the work-force and provide for your minimum reasonable needs without the assistance of spousal maintenance.

Additional defenses that your spouse could employ at an enforcement hearing for spousal maintenance

As we touched on a moment ago, you can seek contempt findings against your ex-spouse for his or her violation of the court’s orders on spousal maintenance. His or her failure to abide by the court’s orders do have defenses, however, that can be offered in a hearing before a judge.

For instance, he or she can argue that they had an inability to pay the spousal maintenance. He or she may have lost their job or had another unforeseeable circumstance occur that makes their payment of spousal maintenance nearly impossible. A court would then look to other sources of funds that could be sold or borrowed from in order to meet their spousal maintenance obligation. If a judge determines that no such source exists and that he or she had no other way of obtaining the funds then he or she would be able to avoid being held in contempt of court.

When does spousal maintenance come to an end?

Earlier in this blog post, I laid out the length of time (largely based on the length of your marriage) that you can be paid spousal maintenance. However, there are other circumstances that can come into play which can lead to an order of spousal maintenance being paid to cease sooner rather than later.

If your ex-spouse passes away or you do then the order becomes void. If you remarry then your ex-spouse no longer is responsible for making spousal maintenance payments. A trickier situation than either of these two circumstances is when you begin to cohabitate with another person with whom you are engaged in a dating/romantic relationship. I have seen parties on either side of this issue go to great lengths to either prove that a person either is in or is not in a situation like this.

What can happen if your ex-spouse is found to lack the resources to pay spousal maintenance?

If we go back to your divorce trial, in order to have spousal maintenance awarded in the first place you must show that your spouse is able to make the payments. Even if your situation merits spousal maintenance to be paid it cannot be ordered if your spouse lacks the financial wherewithal to make the payments and meet his or her own minimum reasonable needs. If he or she cannot do so then you may be in line to receive a greater than fifty percent share of your community estate in order to make up for the inability to order spousal maintenance to be paid.

Ultimately you need to decide whether the “spousal maintenance hill” is one that you are prepared to run up and die on, so to speak. Is this the most important issue in your case? Will it affect your ability to successfully parent your children? Will it require you to go to a trial based on this issue alone? Will the benefit of possibly receiving spousal maintenance outweigh the increased cost and time associated with a trial? These are factors that you need to consider before you jump head first into this arena.

Contractual alimony will be discussed in tomorrow’s blog post

As we wrap up the topic of spousal support, tomorrow we will discuss how you can negotiate contractual alimony with your spouse. This option allows you to receive post-divorce support from your ex-spouse without ever having to go to a trial.

In the meantime, if you have questions about the material that we covered today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. Our licensed family law attorneys are available six days a week to discuss your case with you and to answer any questions that you might have in a comfortable, pressure-free environment.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Spring, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Spring, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.

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