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What qualifies as alimony in Texas?

In a Texas divorce sometimes one spouse requires financial assistance from their soon-to-be ex-spouse. This is not a novel concept. Many people over the course of time have divorced their spouse with little economic support from family available to them. For instance, if you are a mother of four who has stayed home and cared for the kids while your husband went out into the world and made a name for himself in professional circles then your situation is what I am talking about. There are many layers to a divorce case-especially one where spousal support is needed. 

Staying in a marriage because you fear what your post-divorce life will look like

The first layer that I wanted to discuss today deals with the twin desires for happiness and peace of mind. On the one hand you may be wanting to get a divorce from your spouse because you have not been happy for a long time. If you are a stay at home parent you feel like although your spouse has provided for you and your children, actions he or she have taken in recent months justify a divorce. You value your happiness but worry that a divorce will lead to instability for your children. 

What if you get a divorce and you have no money to pay for a place to live? What will happen with your kids? Will the judge force the kids to live with your spouse because you can’t afford to raise them? How will you get a job when you haven’t worked in many years? Will employers skip over your resume due to large gaps in employment? You could have so many concerns that you feel like the benefits of a divorce are outweighed by the uncertainty at your post-divorce life. So, you decide to tough it out for the sake of your kids and the sake of your own stable life.

What comes next after the divorce?

Although you have heard from friends and family that a divorce can sometimes last for months and months, you understand that the case will not go on forever. Once your divorce is over with you have understandable concerns about how you will get back on your feet. Paying for a lawyer seems daunting enough, but how about paying a mortgage, private school tuition and saving for your own retirement. You had planned on living off of your spouse’s 401(k) but that dream died the second you realized that you would have to file for divorce sooner rather than later. 

Since you’ve been home raising a family you have no employment history whatsoever to speak of. Volunteering at your church to fill in when the office secretary was out sick would keep you busy, but is not exactly something that makes your resume shine. Your husband’s income was more than enough to pay for the essentials and then some during the course of your marriage. Now you are forced to think about what sort of employment is available for a mother and home economist in 2020. 

Can you afford to get divorced? Can you afford to stay married? These are the sort of tough questions that I imagine many of you have had to come to terms with in the weeks and months that saw your divorce approaching. Fortunately for you there are solutions to the problems that you are concerned with. What’s more- there may not even be a problem that you have to confront if you are able to negotiate well during the divorce.

Spousal support: Three types for divorcing Texans

In television and movies we hear about a concept called “alimony.” Usually you hear about it in situations where rich and successful people are going through a divorce and the super rich husband is forced to pay his only moderately rich wife a certain sum of money in order to keep her happy and prevent a possibly worse outcome in a divorce trial. While there is some accuracy as far as negotiating a settlement in order to avoid going to see the judge, the rest of this situation is just made for good entertainment, not based in reality.

Here is how alimony works in Texas

First off, it may surprise you to learn that there is no such thing as an alimony law in Texas. Yes, there are alimony-like concepts in the Texas Family Code but nothing explicitly called alimony like there is in other states. You will come to find out if you take the plunge into the world of divorce in Texas that there are a range of alimony-esque features to divorce in our state, however. 

The first type of spousal support that I would like to discuss today is called temporary spousal support. This type of spousal support is, you guessed it: temporary. Court ordered payments of temporary monetary support to be paid from your spouse to you during the course of your divorce case. Typically speaking temporary spousal support would be paid as a result of having temporary orders in place that mandate such payments. 

You can have temporary spousal support ordered by a judge in a temporary orders hearing. This would entail you and your spouse going to see a judge for a hearing to establish temporary orders. A hearing sounds like not such a big deal, but I will warn you that a temporary orders hearing is a mini trial. Your attorney and your spouse’s attorney would both submit evidence to the judge in order to make a case on a number of different issues- spousal support included. 

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge would make rulings on any issue submitted to him. If he finds that you are in need of spousal support he would issue an order that mandates your husband to pay you spousal support for the duration of the divorce. Once your final decree of divorce is approved the temporary spousal support would end. 

Or, you and your spouse could negotiate in mediation the payment of spousal support on a temporary basis. You would be able to avoid having to go see the judge by doing so. This is a cheaper and most time effective method of getting the support that you need to make it through your divorce in one piece financially.

An extreme story that relates to temporary spousal support

Our office represented a husband/father a couple years ago who was going through a divorce. This man, his wife and three kids lived in a beautiful home here on the north side of Houston. While the divorce was ongoing we attended a mediation session where the subject of the family home came up. Namely: who was going to be able to stay in the house during the divorce?

Our client made a very good living and his wife was a stay at home mom. She initially indicated that she wanted to remain in the home during the divorce because she was going to be the primary conservator of the children. This made a ton of sense on many levels. We even told our client as much. However, it became apparent that he wanted to remain in the house, as well. The reasoning that he used was that he wanted his kids to be able to spend time with him in the house where they had grown up. I think deep down he didn’t want to have to move because he wasn’t a huge fan of change. 

How was this issue solved? Well, our client agree to pay a hefty sum of temporary spousal support to his wife for the privilege of remaining in the family home during the divorce. From his wife’s perspective, she was getting enough money to pay rent on a house for her to live in after the divorce with the kids. From his perspective, he got the stability that he was craving- at a price. 

So, while you and your family may not be in the position to be able to throw around thousands of dollars a month in mediation, what you should take from this story is that there are always work arounds and solutions to complex situations. Temporary spousal support is intended to meet a person’s minimal basic needs when it is proven that you couldn’t meet those needs on your own. This idea that a person should be able to live according to the lifestyle that they have become accustomed to is not how it actually works. 

Spousal maintenance and contractual alimony

The two other types of spousal support in Texas are contractual alimony and spousal maintenance. These support types would go into effect after the divorce has concluded and you and your spouse are now ex-spouses. 

Contractual alimony is the only one of the three types of spousal support that actually contains the word “alimony.” This type of support is negotiated between you and your spouse in mediation rather than decided by a judge. The nice part about negotiation is that you and you spouses have direct control over how much is paid, how often and for how long. Once you go to court you lose a ton of autonomy when it comes to things like that. 

You should come prepared to mediation with a household budget showing why you are asking for the sum of money that you are requesting your spouse to pay you. Keep in mind that it is your minimum basic needs that have to be met, not something extravagant. The foundation of a successful push for contractual alimony is: a big income gap between you and your spouse, the inability to go out and earn a living for yourself in the immediate future, the need to go back to school to finish/start a degree or certification, your having a disability or caring for a child with a disability. If you have any of these scenarios playing themselves out in your life then you have a chance to be successful in a push to negotiate for contractual alimony. 

Spousal maintenance is the other option you have when considering post divorce spousal support. Spousal maintenance would be ordered by a judge as a result of the trial. Here, the judge follows the Texas Family Code much more closely when ordering that these amounts be paid. If your marriage has lasted for fewer than ten years you are not eligible to be paid spousal maintenance unless your spouse has been convicted of acts of family violence or been placed on deferred adjudication related to these sort of actions. 

20% of your spouse’s average monthly income or $5,000 (whichever) amounts to less money would be the maximum monthly payout you could expect to be awarded. Keep in mind that the judge would limit the award to the minimum amount that you would need to meet your basic needs. The judge will need to hear testimony on your budget and you would need to bring in a basic budget form to show him how your prospects for the time period immediately after your divorce would not allow for you to meet your needs on your own. 

Marriages that lasted at least 10-20 years are eligible for 5 years of post-divorce maintenance. Seven years of maintenance maximum is allowable for marriages of 20-30 years in length. 30 plus year marriages are eligible for 10 years of maintenance. Finally, if you are disabled or care for a disabled child and are unable to work as a result, you can be ordered to receive spousal maintenance that lasts for an indefinite period. 

Questions about spousal maintenance, contractual alimony or divorce? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

Thank you for stopping by our blog today. If you have any questions about the material that we shared with you 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 here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances. 

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