Suppose you are a person facing divorce in Texas and have an uncertain economic and personal financial future due to the coronavirus or any other reason. In that case, today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan Is right up your alley. Our attorneys and staff understand how difficult it can be to go through a divorce when the economy is not strong. You may have lost your job due to the virus or to the government-led shutdowns. You may work in oil and gas and have had your job furloughed or even been let go from your job after many years of employment. Or, you may be someone who has not worked outside of the home in many years and has instead chosen to maintain your home and raise a family instead of seeking outside employment.
Whatever your specific circumstances are, if you are staying in marriage only because you have concerns over what you will do for income after your divorce, you should understand that there are options for you to take advantage of. These are not options that are unethical or morally dubious. They are an opportunity for you to solidify yourself from a personal finance perspective after a divorce that can be long and may be more expensive than you anticipate. Most divorce cases are measured in months rather than years, but the reality is that you need to be prepared for your life in a post-divorce world.
If consistency and stability are two qualities that you want to exemplify in your post-divorce life, then you need to be unstable economic ground first. Suppose you are married to a member of the military. In that case, you have probably become comfortable with the stability of your spouse's military career by providing you and your family with necessities of life and a consistent, dependable source of income. Now that you are getting divorced, that constant, reliable income will no longer be available to you. What can you do to help protect yourself in the period following your divorce to ensure that you can meet your goals as a single person?
That is what I would like to discuss with you all today in our blog post. We hear a lot in the media about something called alimony. Generally speaking, we picture alimony being payments from a rich husband to a trophy wife or something along those lines. At least, that's what almost every movie I've ever seen that talks about alimony cause us to imagine with the images presented on a big screen. Well, I'm sure there is some truth to this popular concept of alimony; the reality for most families is that unique circumstances often play into whether or not alimony or spousal support of any form is needed.
What does spousal support mean in Texas?
Under Texas family law, you need to be aware of three forms of spousal support. The first is temporary spousal support. As the name would indicate, temporary spousal support is the support that is paid from one spouse to another during your divorce. More specifically, quick spousal support is produced during the temporary orders phase of your case. This temporary support is intended to help you be able to maintain the necessities of your life. At the same time, you attempt to reenter the workforce if you have been absent from it or educate yourself to be able to provide financially for yourself in a post-divorce world.
Keep in mind that both you and your spouse will submit detailed budgets of your finances to a judge for a temporary order hearing if one is needed. A judge would determine the likelihood of inability of each spouse to pay their way for the divorce and would then assess whether or not support was required to be paid. Keep in mind that if your spouse cannot come up with extra money to pay any help, it cannot be ordered. As the old saying goes, you can't get blood out of a turnip. Suppose you have your hopes set on getting temporary spousal support during a divorce, but your spouse does not earn an excess of income to pay that support. In that case, you need to reconsider your goal and figure out another way to exist during your divorce.
In a general sense, family court judges will not bend over backward to award you temporary spousal support. However, a judge is more likely to award quick spousal support than they would be to award spousal maintenance as a result of your divorce. In general, Texas judges would prefer that people earn their way in their post-divorce life rather than rely on streams of income coming from their ex-spouse. It is only in the past few decades that the laws on spousal maintenance have been changed to allow for more significant and more frequent awards of spousal maintenance to be paid from spouse to spouse after a divorce.
If you show that you are unable to meet your minimal, basic needs after a divorce, it is possible that a judge can award you spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance awards are limited in duration and typically cannot be awarded for longer than ten years, depending on the length of your marriage. If you have not been married to your spouse for greater than ten years, then you are not eligible, in most circumstances, to receive spousal maintenance of any kind. An exception to this law is that if you have been a victim of domestic abuse within two years of your divorce, a spousal maintenance award may be justified even if you have not been married for at least ten years.
For most people, spousal maintenance awards are limited to at most 20% of your spouse's gross monthly income. There may be exceptions in some instances where high earning spouses R subject to paying support but in general, this 20% rule is a good rule of thumb for you to apply to your case. To put yourself in a position where you can submit a solid claim for a judge in a divorce trial, you should have your attorney work with you to prepare a budget and other evidence to show why the support is needed. In addition, you will need to display a willingness and ability to receive training or experience to reenter the workforce or enter it for the first time after your divorce.
The third and final type of spousal support that is a viable option for you as a Texas military spouse is called contractual alimony. As opposed to temporary spousal support in spousal maintenance, which is judge ordered, contractual alimony is created by mutual agreement of you and your spouse during settlement negotiations. Essentially, you and your spouse would enter into a contract whereby your spouse agrees to pay you a certain amount of spousal support during your post-divorce life for a certain period.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to contractual alimony is that a family court judge is not always able to enforce the terms of this type of spousal support as contained in your final decree of divorce, for example, if your spouse were ordered to pay you $1000 a month in spousal maintenance for two years after your divorce and did not do so, you would be able to file an enforcement lawsuit against him seeking to have the judge order him to pay you the money that is owed.
On the other hand, because contractual alimony is more akin to contract disputes than it is a violation of a family court order, a family court judge would likely not be able to help you if your ex-spouse were to start paying you contractual alimony in the future. For this reason, you and your attorney need to consider whether or not contractual maintenance is in the direction you want to go if you are in financial need in the immediate years following your post-divorce life. Other mechanisms may be available to you, notably a disproportionate share being awarded to you from the community estate that may be preferable to both your spouse and you.
Divorcing a military member spouse: what you need to know about alimony
While there are no innate differences between a military divorce and civilian divorce, the circumstances that your military family finds itself in may differ significantly from that of a comparable civilian family. There are different laws in place regarding how retirement benefits can be divided for a military family and how and when you can serve notice of your lawsuit to your spouse if they are deployed currently. These are just two examples of how a military divorce can differ in some respects from a civilian divorce.
If you plan on filing for divorce from your military spouse in Texas, you need to 1st make sure that Texas has jurisdiction over your case. Jurisdiction means that a Texas judge can issue rulings related to your property and your children. Without jurisdiction, you run the risk of a family court either throwing your divorce out or giving orders that are void due to lack of jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is determined by residency, which can be tricky in a military circumstance where you and your spouse may not even reside physically in Texas.
As we noted earlier, for a Texas family court judge to award due spousal maintenance or temporary spousal support, the length of your marriage and each of your earning abilities will be considered, along with your ages and educational levels. I was hoping you would not assume that because your spouse is in the military, this will mark your favor regarding spousal maintenance awarding. To my knowledge, that is not something that a judge would consider in and of itself when determining whether a special support award is appropriate.
Additionally, there are no federal laws on the books that state precisely how and if spousal support should be awarded in a divorce. However, keep in mind that no more than 50% of your spouse's income can be paid to you in support.
Finally, there is a relationship between your right to medical benefits under your spouse's health insurance plan and the length of your marriage. The general rule of thumb is that if your marriage lasted at least 20 years before a divorce occurs, you would be able to keep your health insurance as long as those 20 years of marriage also ran concurrently with your spouse having 20 years at least of military service. All of these factors should be considered together when determining how to approach the issue of spousal support both during and after your divorce.
Because there is a balancing act that occurs in the area of managing a divorce and managing your post-divorce life, it is recommended that you list the services of an experienced family law attorney to help you manage your military divorce. We have only touched on one area of divorce law in Texas, but many others will also need to be dealt with during your case. It would be unreasonable to expect you to be able to adequately handle each of those areas without the experienced hand of a family law attorney helping guide you.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained 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 an excellent way for you to learn more about our law practice and our services to our clients.