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What will a Texas family court look for when determining spousal support?

Some of you reading this blog post are likely concerned about your finances both during and after a divorce. You may have been a stay-at-home parent or spouse during your marriage and have not been in the workforce for some time. As a result, your primary concerns may have little to do with the relationship that you are losing and more to do with how you are going to eat and live after the divorce finally comes to an end. 

Family courts can assist people in your position to an extent. Spousal support, spousal maintenance, and contractual alimony are all different types of post-divorce financial assistance that can be provided to you if you show a need. One of the most difficult aspects of the case is having to adjust to a lifestyle that is different in doing so on less income than you are used to can be one of the more significant changes that you are going to need to make. 

Before we even get into what factors and considerations a family court would look to when determining whether or not you need post-divorce spousal support I would tell you that probably the most simple change you can make in your life when it comes to being able to live within your means and develop a strategy for your life after the divorce would be to develop a budget for you and your family. This may sound like the least amount of fun in the world but I can tell you that it is important for families to do this and to refine their budgeting activities both now and in the long term. 

Learn to love and live on a budget 

one of the common complaints that I hear from people when I make this recommendation is that a budget is constricting and prevents you from exercising any degree of freedom over your life. The thought is that since the budget is guard rails for your income you are unable to live spontaneously or even enjoy the income you have. What I like to tell folks is that this is not the case in that a budget will provide you with the freedom to spend money and live a highly desirable life. Allow me to explain. 

A budget does not force you to do anything. After all: you are free to tear up the budget, delete it or otherwise ignore it rather than following what it tells you. The budget helps you to be able to feel comfortable spending money in certain areas because you have thought out a plan, put it on paper, and are now living it. Rather than making assumptions or guesses as to what something costs or how much money you have to spend in a particular area of your life you now have a game plan to follow through with. 

This is a godsend for people like yourself who are either going through a divorce or are recently coming out of a divorce. You may feel like your life is rudderless or without a plan once the structure of the divorce is behind you. Having your life to live independent of a judge or some attorneys would certainly be liberating but it can also be a little bit intimidating given that you have more freedom but may have fewer resources to utilize. 

A budget is a perfect way for you to meet the challenges of living a post-divorce life but also being intentional about accomplishing goals and ensuring that you give yourself the best possible chance at surviving and thriving in your post-divorce years. Knowing how much money you have coming in each month, what your necessary bills are, what areas of your life you can reduce spending to conserve money for other goals, and developing a plan for your long term finances all go hand in hand with developing a simple budget. 

When you have finally developed a budget in a system for budgeting that allows you to feel comfortable it can be one of the more rewarding aspects of your post-divorce financial life. You now have control over your money and can live intentionally but not in fear. Keep in mind that the budget will allow you to know where your money is being spent and how you can live a great life within your means. You no longer have to wonder where the money is going to come from or where your money is going. Once you get in the groove of budgeting all those answers will be right in front of you in black and white. 

Nobody is going to argue that budgeting is sexy or is going to get a lot of attention from your friends and family. If you were to get a new job that paid you five times as much money as your old job your friends and family would likely begin to notice. New clothes, a new house, a new car and just a change in your outlook would be easy for your friends and family to see. On the other hand, the changes that your life may undergo as a result of getting on a budget will likely be more difficult to see on the surface but can make huge differences for you as an individual both in the short and long term.

Do not mistake the lack of flash or the apparent simplicity of budgeting as not being worth your effort. I think many of us discriminate against simple and effective ways to improve our lives like budgeting in favor of more complex and seemingly sophisticated tips and tricks we read on the Internet or pick up from friends and family. While a budget is not exciting it can and should be the most effective method for you to rein in your post-divorce finances and develop a game plan that can lead to your long-term financial success. 

What is post-divorce spousal support? 

A Texas family court may order that your spouse make regular payments to you after your divorce due to your economic need. You may be more familiar with these types of payments as alimony. Movies and television show reference alimony like they are everyday occurrences in divorce cases. However, the question we need to answer is whether or not that is the case. Do you have the option of being awarded spousal maintenance in a Texas divorce? 

Just like about child support, a judge would consider different factors and circumstances when determining your potential eligibility and need for these types of payments. From the get-go, there is a presumption in place that no spousal support of any kind will be needed after the divorce. From my experience, judges are hesitant to award spousal support unless a strong case is made as to why those payments are necessary. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a position where spousal support is beyond your reach. 

Unless you can show that your minimal, basic needs cannot be met on your own after the divorce you will not be awarded spousal maintenance. Meeting your basic financial needs could be difficult for you as you transition into a new living arrangement, attempt to enter the workforce, or try and complete a previously unfinished college education. Most importantly, you should be aware that Your share of any Community property or any separate property awarded to you in the divorce will also be considered when determining whether or not spousal support is warranted. If you are awarded a significant amount of spousal property or separate property then the chances of your being awarded spousal support decreased. 

For starters, your ability to earn an income and support yourself financially will be assessed at the time of your divorce. If you have been out of the workforce, have little formal education, are disabled either mentally or physically, or have some other circumstance that would indicate you cannot earn an income then you have a leg up in this regard. Likewise, your spouse's ability to earn an income and also pay spousal support will be considered. The more financial wherewithal that your spouse has in combination with yourself increases the likelihood that you may be awarded spousal support after the divorce. 

Next, your educational background and work history will be considered. If your education is minimal and you have little to no job history then this would seem to be a point in your favor when it comes to having spousal support ordered. On the other hand, if you have always worked and have the means to be able to transition into new work somewhat easily after the divorce then it is less likely that you would be awarded special support all other things being equal. You may also be awarded special support only for the time needed to transition back into the workforce or to complete a college degree. 

In Texas, the length of your marriage has a lot to do with how spousal support is awarded. For instance, if you have been married for less than 10 years it is very uncommon for spousal maintenance to be awarded unless you suffer from a disability or care for a child with a disability. Otherwise, you may be in line to be awarded spousal support for up to 10 years depending upon the length of your marriage period generally speaking, the longer you've been married the longer a judge would feel comfortable ordering special support to be received. 

As the old saying goes: you can't get blood from a turnip. I worked a family law case in Montgomery County not too long ago where an opposing party, in this case, a husband, was convinced that he was going to be awarded a substantial amount of spousal support in the divorce. He was so convinced of this fact that he was very difficult to negotiate with either within mediation or outside of mediation. With that said, we were not able to settle the case in mediation and had to proceed to court. 

In temporary orders hearing our side simply presented a case outlining the proven needs of both sides while continually promoting the idea that our client had no excess money to pay spousal support either during the divorce or afterward. Since it was shown that the opposing party could provide for himself in the absence of special support and that our client would already be responsible for paying child support no social support of any kind was ordered. This came as quite a shock to the other side but was a good lesson to note that there has to be money available for spousal support to be ordered. If your spouse's budget is going to be stretched thin with child support and simply paying for his or her own needs then your chances of being awarded spousal support are minimal. 

Another important factor that I would take a look at in here circumstances would be your age relative to your spouse’s age. The older you are means you would be less likely, theoretically, to be able to transition into new lines of work or even transition back into a prior line of work. Any physical or psychological impairments or disabilities you suffer from may also figure into the judge's decision making when it comes to awarding spousal support. If you seem to have many hurdles before you as far as getting into the workforce on a full-time basis then you are likely to experience an easier time arguing that spousal support is needed. 

Additionally, your role in the breakup of the marriage, as well as your utilization of Community property, will be looked at as far as determining whether or not spousal support is warranted. For instance, if you are determined to have wasted community assets, engaged in behavior outside the marriage that led to this divorce, or committed any other act that was a precipitating factor in the divorce being filed then you are less likely to be awarded special support even if there is a need for it considering your finances. 

I wanted to again emphasize that the separate property that is available to you will be a major factor in determining whether or not spousal support can and should be awarded to you. If you entered into the marriage with a significant amount of separate property to your name then theoretically that property should remain with you despite the years of your marriage. A judge would be more likely to tell you to sell that property rather than to award you spousal support. 

Closing thoughts on post-divorce spousal support

Your best bet for having post-divorce spousal support awarded to you in your divorce may be to negotiate for it directly with your spouse. Rather than leaving it up to the judgment of a family court judge, you can discuss this directly with your spouse to come to an agreement on a sum of money to be paid to you every month for a certain length of time. As opposed to spousal maintenance, these type of payments will be classified as contractual alimony. 

Contractual alimony payments would be more akin to something contained under contract law rather than family law. For that reason, a family court judge could only enforce provisions regarding contractual alimony to the point where he or she would have been able to order spousal maintenance. So, if you agree to contractual alimony payments far beyond what a judge could order in special maintenance then he or she would only be able to enforce the orders to the point where he could have issued orders regarding spousal maintenance. Bear this in mind as you and your attorney negotiate over these issues. 

Another factor to consider is that you need to be prepared when it comes to presenting arguments to a judge as to why spousal maintenance is necessary for you and your family. It bears mentioning once again that family courts are not overly excited at awarding spousal maintenance payments even if there is a need. Courts are more likely to ask so that assets held in your community estate or separate estate be liquidated to make sure you can subsist in the months and years following your divorce. 

But I like to recommend to clients is that you begin to determine what your options are for subsistence in the immediate months and years following a divorce. If there are circumstances in play that necessitate an award is vessel maintenance can and should be discussed with your lawyer. However, if there are other means for you to make ends meet after divorce those options should be pursued if you are not able to when spousal maintenance. A plan to complete a college education, attend a vocational school, or reenter the workforce should be a focus in addition to preparing a case for spousal maintenance. 

Questions about the material presented in today's blog post? 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 consultation 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 world of Texas family law as well as about how your family may be impacted by a child custody or divorce case. 

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