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How the laws in Texas changed regarding spousal maintenance and how it affects your divorce

In 2011, the State of Texas passed laws that change the manner in which you can be eligible to receive spousal maintenance via a court order. The laws purposefully restrict your ability to collect spousal maintenance by requiring that you prove that even after all community property is divided between you and your spouse that you do not have sufficient property or income in order to meet your minimum reasonable needs. Basically- when the dust settles and all of your separate property and your share of the community estate are added up you need to be able to show a judge that you can’t pay your monthly bills.

That is only the first hurdle that you must clear. In addition, you must have been married for at least ten years to your current spouse. Your efforts to earn an income sufficient to provide for your needs and/or to attend a school that could help you develop the skills necessary to do so must also be shown and proven.

Other ways to earn spousal maintenance include having your spouse be found to have committed an act of family violence against you or a member of your household. Obviously this is not a way that anyone wants to become eligible to receive a spousal maintenance award but unfortunately, it happens that this becomes relevant for some people. In the alternative, you would need to show that you or your child have a disability that requires sufficient care to the point where you are not able to earn an income.

Finally- your one chance to have spousal maintenance ordered by a court is during your divorce. You cannot complete your divorce and then subsequently file a modification in order to go back and have spousal maintenance implemented into your case because you have lost a job or otherwise run into some financial difficulty. This is all the more reason for you and your attorney to realistically look at your finances ahead of time to determine if a request for spousal maintenance will be made in your trial, and how that request can be justified with evidence.

How can you up your odds of being awarded court-ordered spousal maintenance? Here are some tips on that very subject:

-If you think that you can pull the wool over your judge’s eyes and trick him or her into awarding you spousal maintenance think again. The analysis goes beyond listening to you testify about what your monthly needs are, how expensive rent is in your area, how much debt you are in because of your husband/wife’s dumb mistakes, etc. If you make yourself out to be someone who you are not, then you will quickly lose credibility with your judge and this will not only erase any chance you have of receiving spousal maintenance but will hinder your ability to achieve any of the other goals you have in your divorce case.

On the flip side, I have seen men and women try to argue that they do not have the resources available to him or her in order to pay spousal maintenance. Again, your judge will be quite adept at figuring out just how honest you are being in making those kinds of arguments. If you are a high-income earner who is worried about paying spousal maintenance your arguments that your rent is high, your bills are piling up and things of this nature you are likely to be surprised when the judge orders you to pay spousal maintenance. Considering that you are limited to paying only 20% of your monthly income in payments you will draw little sympathy from a judge especially if you are not already on the hook for paying child support.

-Continue (or start) or start to look for work even if you anticipate receiving spousal maintenance. Even if you and your attorney are confident that you will be awarded spousal maintenance in your divorce trial, that does not mean that you can rest on your laurels and not look for work. The reason for this is practical as you can never be sure of anything that a judge will or will not do in a trial so having a “back up plan” is never a bad idea. The other is that the law in Texas requires you to be looking for a job during your divorce in order to be eligible to receive spousal maintenance.

This can mean sending out resumes, going on job interviews, recertifying yourself in some trade or skill or going back to school to complete or earn a degree of some sort. This is not a risk that you want to take in your divorce. If you truly need the income from spousal maintenance work towards that goal by showing the judge that you are not taking your need for income sitting down (literally).

What amounts of spousal maintenance can be ordered in Texas?

If you get over all of the aforementioned hurdles and are in a position to receive court-ordered spousal maintenance, you would likely have questions about how the judge will determine the amount of maintenance that you should receive as well as how much you can actually receive on a monthly basis.

In actuality, a judge will likely consider your monthly income and that of your spouse. The difference would be the amount that you could expect to receive on the absolute high end of things. Other factors that a judge can consider include your age and employment history as well as that of your spouse. What sort of education do you have? What sort of education does your spouse have? If you have been a homemaker for an extended period of time your contributions in this regard will be considered as well. Finally, if you have been the victim of family violence or other sorts of bad acts by your spouse these will be favorable factors that a judge can consider when determining an amount of spousal maintenance.

There is a ceiling on how much spousal maintenance you can be ordered to receive in Texas. $5000 per month or 20% of your spouse’s average monthly gross income (whichever is less) is the limit that a judge will be bound by in your case. Just about all sources of income for your spouse will be considered when figuring out their gross monthly income.

How long can spousal maintenance be paid or received by a spouse?

The other big concern that many people have is how long they could be on the hook for paying spousal maintenance. People are told horror stories about friends and family having to pay spousal maintenance for what seems like decades before the responsibility comes to an end. Is this a realistic concern for you in your post-divorce life?

When in doubt, a court will seek to award spousal support for the shortest possible time period possible that will allow the spouse receiving spousal maintenance to get back on their feet and meet their minimum reasonable needs on their own. This means getting through school or training and landing a job that can care for themselves and their children without additional assistance (other than child support) from a paying ex-spouse.

Of course, if you are disabled or if your child is these are the sort of circumstances that can lead a spouse to receive spousal maintenance for a longer period of time. In tomorrow’s blog post we will discuss the specific limits to be aware of for receiving spousal maintenance.

More questions on spousal maintenance? Stay tuned tomorrow as we continue to discuss this subject

The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC would like to thank you for taking an interest in this important topic. We will continue our discussion tomorrow as we go over how long spousal maintenance can be ordered for and what defenses exist to arguments that spousal maintenance needs to be paid.

In the meantime, any questions you have on alimony or spousal maintenance can be addressed to one of our licensed family law attorneys in a free of charge consultation in our office.

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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 Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our divorce lawyers in Houston 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 Houston, 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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