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Can My Unemployed Ex Extend Our Spousal Support Agreement?

One of the side effects associated with the shutdowns during the coronavirus has been that unemployment in our country has skyrocketed. Although we are seeing reductions in the unemployment numbers in the months following the opening up of our economy, unemployment figures are still multiple of what they were during late February and early March before the shutdown the associated with the coronavirus were implemented by our government. Legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president in late March also made it somewhat more enticing for persons to remain on unemployment benefits during the course of this pandemic and subsequent economic slowdown. 

The added benefits to unemployment insurance ended just a few weeks ago at the end of July. Additional sums of money that had been paid 2 unemployed persons ended. As such, many Americans are frantically looking for work as their unemployment eligibility has neared its end. On the other hand, you may be in a situation where an ex-spouse has been unable to find their economic footing after your divorce due to a range of circumstances. How would this situation be impacted by a spousal maintenance or contractual alimony order contained in your final decree of divorce

More specifically, the question we need to ask ourselves is can your unemployed or underemployed ex-spouse extend their right to receive spousal maintenance as a part of your Texas divorce? Given the unprecedented nature of this pandemic and the subsequent economic problems that many Americans are experiencing it would seem that the answer to this question could certainly be yes. Before we answer that question, I would like to go over the basics of Texas spousal support, contractual alimony and spousal maintenance laws as they relate to Texas divorces.

The ins and outs of Texas alimony, spousal support and spousal maintenance 

What is commonly referred to as alimony in most states is known as spousal maintenance or contractual alimony in the Texas world of divorces. These payments are additional sums of money that are not part of the division of your marital state that you would be eligible and ordered to pay towards the temporary support of your ex-spouse after your divorce has become finalized. If you are on the hook to pay your spouse support during the marriage this is referred to as temporary spousal support. 

These various forms of spousal support are typically utilized by a party to a divorce in order to stabilize their economic situation and keep them afloat while they search for their footing from a employment in financial perspective after a divorce. Just because you are going through a difficult divorce does not mean that school tuition for the kids, your mortgage payment and any other debts but sure ex-spouse has to their name do not need to be paid. As a result, if it is shown that your spouse or ex-spouse is unable to meet their minimal basic needs on their own then you may become obligated to help in this regard. 

Along with this right to receive forms of support from you, it is expected that your ex-spouse will do the work necessary to become more financially stable. Part of the motivating element behind the payment of spousal support or spousal maintenance is that these payments are temporary in nature. The temporary nature of these payments will either end at the time your divorce becomes final or in a certain period of years after your divorce is ended. Factors like the length of your marriage in years as well as the final result of the property division in your case all influence whether or not your spouse is eligible for support payments. 

In theory, your ex-spouse will utilize these support payments as a means to keep himself or herself afloat financially during the time that they introduced themselves to the job market, refresh their skills or training and or obtain the necessary education to land full time employment and become financially independent. Keep in mind that factors like childcare, educational costs for your children or the need to support a child who is disabled or also factors that may weigh in on a judge’s mind when determining spousal maintenance. 

Differences in income oftentimes lead two the need for spousal maintenance to be awarded 

It is far from a given that your ex-spouse will be awarded temporary spousal support or contractual alimony/Spousal maintenance in a divorce. That doesn't stop many husbands and wives from requesting spousal maintenance, however a judge would look at specific factors involved in your case such as whether or not your ex-spouse has a college education, how long that spouse has been out of the workforce and caring for children And the current economic climate that a party finds themselves in after a divorce. Obviously, if you were going through a divorce right now and were to finalize your case in the next month or so the judge would look too whether or not the economic climate would be likely to continue to improve or if problems for your spouse would persist into the fall and winter months of 2020. 

The reality of the situation is that your ex-spouse maybe in a position where he or she is not as well off as you are financially as an individual because he or she made sacrifices during your marriage to care for your home or care for your children While you entered the job force at an earlier age. When one spouse is in a supportive role financially for many, many years he or she will likely face challenges when attempting to reenter or even enter into the workforce for the first time. These may be the reasonable motivations for persons who are seeking spousal maintenance or temporary spousal support in a Texas divorce. 

What is the difference between contractual alimony in special maintenance in Texas? 

In today's blog post, I have already utilized two terms that may be somewhat unfamiliar to you. Those terms are spousal maintenance and contractual alimony. The concept behind each term is fairly simple but the terminology itself is probably unfamiliar to you unless you are keen on Terminology in the world of Texas family law. Specifically, how you would be entitled or eligible for either kind of payment, the extent to which you may receive payment under either and how long you can receive payment are relevant questions to ask yourself right now. In addition, if you are the spouse who will be paying contractual alimony or spousal maintenance you need to ask yourselves how an ex-spouse may extend or even increase the award received in a divorce. 

When discussing the differences between spousal maintenance and contractual alimony, I think we need to discuss first of all how One is ordered by a judge in the other one is agreed to between spouses during negotiations. Contractual alimony is a contract between you and your ex-spouse for one to pay the other a certain amount of money on a defined basis over the course of a certain period of time period spousal maintenance is ordered by a judge as a result of a divorce trial. As such, spousal maintenance awards are enforceable by a judge while contractual alimony cases on occasion or not. 

The next logical question For you to be asking is , if you need spousal support after the divorce and your spouse will not be willing to negotiate with you for it in mediation, how would you be able to work to get a judge to order spousal maintenance in a trial. I'll begin by telling you that it is not easy to present sufficient evidence to a judge in order to have him or her order spousal maintenance to be paid. But these are much more willing to award you disproportionate shares of your community estate, for example, in order to avoid having to pay spousal maintenance. 

To even be eligible to receive spousal maintenance you need to qualify under the law in Texas. On top of that, the length of time that you can receive special maintenance and the amount of money that you can receive each month are limited by law. Keep in mind the Community property law in Texas favors a spouse who has not worked and does not have the economic wherewithal of a spouse who has work, 1 compared to other states. Community property seeks an outcome that allows spouses to move on with their lives, from an economic perspective, after a divorce without having to rely on Additional sums of money to be paid on a monthly basis. 

We see more often than not in divorces that property is divided nearly straight down the middle in most cases. In the event that you are not able to divide up a piece of property then other sums of money or property are usually provided to you in order to compensate you and make you whole. The bottom line is that you do not need to go into your divorce worried that just because your spouse earned all the money that he will be able to keep all of it and the property associated with it. You will not be penalized for being a homemaker or for taking care of your kids for many years. Yes, you will likely need to develop the skills necessary to work outside of the home but even if you are not awarded spousal maintenance in a divorce that does not mean that you will be left to fend for yourself economically. 

What is the relationship between spousal maintenance and contractual alimony? 

In the event that you find yourself in a position where you and your spouse are able to at least negotiate on the subject of contractual alimony, you need to at least be aware of how a court would view your circumstances in light of the law on spousal maintenance. for instance, your spouse would likely have little to no motivation to negotiate with you on this subject unless he or she were aware that you were very likely to be awarded spousal maintenance by a judge if he were not willing to agree two ago she ate with you on contractual alimony. Meaning, you can try to negotiate with someone all day long on this subject but if he or she knows that you are likely to lose in court he or she would have little motivation to be generous in negotiations on contractual alimony. 

Keep in mind that Texas courts treat contractual alimony as an actual contract between you and your spouse. The law does not provide for specific limits on eligibility, the amount of money that you could receive or for how long the award could last. Importantly, as we noted earlier in today's blog post, it is trickier to enforce the contractual alimony award than it is a spousal maintenance award. With all this said while the limits and issues surrounding contractual alimony may differ from that of special maintenance, you need to be aware of each element of family law so that you can better negotiate and/or prepare for a trial. 

From a financial perspective, you have a lot at stake in a divorce case especially when you are the spouse who has not worked for some time and does not have the educational background of your spouse. This is all the more reason for you to be well prepared to negotiate during your divorce when it comes to dividing up your community estate, clarifying which assets are a part of your separate estate and ensuring that you position yourself well to be able to negotiate for contractual alimony. If negotiations breakdown and you are unable to settle your case, you need to be able to advocate for yourself effectively in the courtroom so that a judge issues an appropriate verdict based on the actual circumstances of your life. 

Questions about Texas family law? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan 

If you have any questions about the material presented 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. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the law in Texas and for you to ask questions about the services that our law office can provide to you and your family. 


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