Growing up, did your mother ever tell you that, "Honesty is the best policy"? When in doubt, tell the truth, is basically what this boils down to. That saying is applicable in all areas of life. Family court is no exception. In yesterday's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we concluded our time by discussing tips that could help you win an award of spousal maintenance in the event that you find yourself in front of a judge for a trial. We will pick up where we left off in today's blog.
Don’t try to hide something from a judge when making your arguments
In addition to being honest, I would recommend that you don't actively try to hide information from a judge that could potentially harm your case as far as attempting to win spousal maintenance is concerned. While it is tempting to try and do anything possible to keep your case for maintenance afloat, in the long run, you are hurting your credibility with the judge when you are anything less than honest with him or her. Add to that the fact that there are multiple areas of your case other than just the spousal maintenance portion and you have a situation where you do not want to harm your case overall to potentially benefit one, specific area.
I should also note that your judge will likely have heard hundreds or even more divorce cases in their lives and will be familiar with any kind of shenanigans that you try to pull in the courtroom. Remember earlier in the blog when I was talking about how your mom told you to be honest at all times? The court is one of those times. Just like your mom, your judge will be quite adept at picking out untruthful statements that you make. He or she can tell if you are fibbing when it comes to your income potential or need for support. In the same way, if your spouse is arguing that his income has gone down recently or that he has concerns about the stability of his job those statements can ring untrue given that you both will have submitted financial statements that will tell him or her your true financial status.
If spousal maintenance is court ordered
In the event that you are successful in arguing for spousal maintenance to be awarded in your case, the judge will be in a position where he or she then has to determine how much maintenance you should be awarded and for how long the award should last as far as time is concerned. An important factor to keep in mind is that the judge is not going to order any award that goes beyond what your minimal, reasonable needs are. This is keeping with Texas law and public policy that the court will want to encourage you to find work to support yourself.
A judge has a pretty wide-ranging list of factors to sort through when determining an appropriate award of spousal maintenance. As a bottom line, the most that could theoretically be provided to you in maintenance is the difference between what your spouse's monthly expenses are and their net income. Again, this type of award is not likely given that a judge will not want to cause your spouse to be running up against the extremes of his budget on a monthly basis. You don’t want this either, especially if your spouse is also paying you child support. Keeping your ex-spouse financially afloat is a good idea. Maxing him out from a financial perspective each month is not only unnecessary in most cases but can harm your ability to receive the support that you require.
On the other hand, there are factors that can lead to your receiving a larger award of spousal maintenance relative to your current financial situation. For example, we see pretty often among spouses going through “golden years” divorce cases where the wife has chosen to stay home for the duration of their decades-old marriage and care for the children and maintain the home. This could have been done in order to allow the husband to work their way up in their company to a higher paying position. Or, the wife could have been at home caring for children and working nights at a warehouse or retail store in order to pay for their husband’s law school or medical school education. Now that a divorce is on the horizon decades later is that wife likely to be compensated in the way of spousal maintenance?
The answer is yes. If you made sacrifices for your family and in order to allow your spouse to go out into the marketplace and succeed this is likely a pertinent factor when it comes to the judge’s analysis in the area of spousal maintenance. Your contributions as a stay at home parent and homemaker, as well as time, spent working jobs to support your spouse's educational aspirations are positive factors for you in this analysis.
Finally, a realistic consideration that a judge must make is to take into account your own age, education and work history. Even absent the considerations I laid out in the above paragraph it is unlikely that a judge would assume that you could immediately enter the workforce and earn a living sufficient to provide for your minimal, reasonable needs right out of the gate. Rather, allowances need to be made for the fact that you have not worked in decades or at least many years. If you have any sort of physical disability or impairment that limits the type of work that you can perform a judge would be interested to know this as well.
What is the most amount of court-ordered spousal maintenance that can be awarded in a Texas divorce?
The Texas Family Code sets forth the maximum possible award of spousal maintenance that can be awarded to you in your divorce. That figure is either $5000 or twenty percent of your spouse’s average gross monthly income, whichever of those numbers is lower. Basically, the most amount of money that you can be paid as a result of a judge issued order is $5000.
How long can court-ordered spousal maintenance be ordered by a judge?
As I mentioned earlier in this blog post, a judge will want to limit the amount of support that you are paid to the shortest amount of time that can be expected to allow you to earn sufficient income to pay your monthly bills. This does not necessarily allow you to return to the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed during your marriage life. This is a basic, subsistence level living.
On the other hand, if you suffer from a disability or care for a child that suffers from a disability you may not be able to go out and work to earn a living for yourself now or at any point in the future. You are able to earn a lengthy award of spousal maintenance that could go on indefinitely, but your judge will likely order you and your spouse to return to court periodically in order to make sure that the spousal maintenance is still necessary based on the possibility that your circumstances could change over time.
Typical spousal maintenance award lengths seen in Texas divorces
Absent extreme or unordinary circumstances, you can expect the judge in your case to follow the Texas Family Code’s prescribed durational caps for the awarding of spousal maintenance. The most important factor to consider is the length of your marriage. Basically, the longer that you and your spouse have been married the longer you can expect to receive spousal maintenance as long as you have been married a minimum of ten years and have met the qualifications that we were discussing earlier in this blog.
Ab exception to the ten-year marriage requirement is if you have been a victim of family violence. In those situations, a judge is able to award you no more than five years of spousal maintenance, regardless of the length of your marriage.
In other cases, if you have been married between ten and twenty years you can expect to be awarded no more than five year’s worth of spousal maintenance. A marriage that lasted between twenty and thirty years could result in a maximum award length of seven years. Finally, a marriage that began more than thirty years ago would wind up landing you a spousal maintenance award of up to ten years duration.
What happens if your spouse is ordered to pay you spousal maintenance but does not do so
It is all well and good to earn a spousal maintenance award from a judge, but the actual benefits of that award do not come to fruition until the money actually winds up in your pocket. Having a judge’s signature on a piece of paper is nice but it won’t pay your bills. You need to know what can be done in the event that your divorce concludes with a spousal maintenance order, but your ex-spouse refuses to pay you as directed by your Final Decree of Divorce.
Unfortunately, you cannot simply show your final orders to a police officer, if your ex-spouse is not paying you the spousal maintenance, and expect him or her to arrest or otherwise force him to do so. You must file what is known as an enforcement case in the same court that issued your orders so that you can bring this to the attention of your judge.
By the same token, if your spouse finds out that you are no longer in need of receiving the spousal maintenance that was ordered by the judge, he can file a lawsuit in which he attempts to modify or reduce the amount paid to you. There are also circumstances that we are about to discuss that could lead him to successfully argue that you are no longer entitled to any amount of spousal maintenance.
What could cause your spousal maintenance award to end prior to its expected conclusion date?
A court can intercede at the petition of your ex-spouse and stop the payment of spousal maintenance in the event that you pass away. The maintenance award is not something that you can "will" to a child or another person. Once you are gone there is no ability to transfer the benefit of spousal maintenance.
Remarrying would mean that you have theoretically found another source for you to receive the monthly income sufficient to provide for your needs and therefore a spousal maintenance award would no longer be justified. Finally, if you are found to be co-habituating with a person with whom you are having a romantic relationship on a permanent basis that is also a way to cause your spousal maintenance award to go away. This last scenario can be very fact specific and I have been involved with cases that end up having two persons air dirty and personal laundry in front of a judge either to maintain or do away with a spousal maintenance order.
What sort of defenses is available to your spouse if he fails to pay the court ordered spousal maintenance?
In the event that you file an enforcement case against your spouse, he has the ability to argue that he lacks the resources necessary to pay you and/or that he lacks sufficient property to sell and gain the resources sufficient to pay you spousal maintenance. Borrowing the money is a reasonable means to pay spousal maintenance in the eyes of the law, and if he shows that he was unable to do so then that may allow him to not pay you the previously ordered spousal maintenance.
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Other Articles you may be interested in:
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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.