Articles Posted in Spousal Maintenance

When a marriage ends, one of the most pressing concerns is the financial well-being of both spouses. In Texas, spousal support, also known as alimony, can play a crucial role in providing economic stability during and after a divorce. In this blog post, our Forney divorce lawyers will delve into the key aspects of spousal support laws in Texas, shedding light on eligibility, the factors a court will consider, and the different types of spousal support.

Eligibility for Spousal Support

In Texas, eligibility for spousal support depends on various factors. The court may award spousal support if the spouse seeking support lacks enough property or income to provide for their reasonable needs after the divorce. Additionally, the court considers several other aspects, including the length of the marriage, the age and health of the spouses, the earning capacity of each spouse, and any marital misconduct that may have occurred.

Factors Considered by the Court

When determining the amount and duration of spousal support, the court takes several factors into account. These factors include the financial resources available to both spouses, the education and employment skills of each spouse, the time needed for the spouse seeking support to acquire sufficient education or training, and the contribution of each spouse to the marriage, both financially and as a homemaker. The court also considers the separate property owned by each spouse and any child custody arrangements.

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In the event of a divorce, it is extremely common for each of the parties to have differing income-earning abilities during and after the divorce process. Often, one of the divorcing parents had stopped working full time during a marriage in order to care for children or otherwise maintain a household. In order to compensate for the value of the labor that a stay-at-home spouse has contributed to marriage and household, Texas courts regularly award spousal maintenance (commonly referred to as alimony) in order to equalize the parties’ standards of living and income-earning abilities. The Court of Appeals of Texas recently affirmed a family court’s ruling that granted alimony to the ex-wife while rejecting the ex-husband’s arguments that the alimony award was improper.

The parties from the recently decided case were married in 2007 and separated in 2020. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the husband had at least 2 affairs and fathered a child with another woman during the marriage to his wife. As part of her divorce claim, the woman requested both temporary spousal support to help her while the divorce moved along, as well as a spousal maintenance award to assist her with supporting herself and developing employment skills which she had put on hold during the marriage. In order to award long-term spousal support, Texas law requires parties to have been married for at least 10 years and also requires a finding that the beneficiary spouse lacked adequate property and income-earning ability to provide for their basic needs.

At trial, the court accepted the evidence as to the parties earning abilities and assets and divided the marital estate equitably. In addition to the division of property, the court awarded the woman spousal support in the amount of $250 per month for a period of eighteen months. Although the woman testified that she was able to pay her bills without the support, the court found that this admission was made only because the woman was on federal food stamp assistance and needed to borrow money from her family several times to make ends meet. Based on the woman’s testimony that she was able to pay her bills, the man appealed the trial court’s alimony award, arguing that she had adequate property and income-earning ability to survive without the support.

Texas courts are entitled to award spousal support (also referred to as alimony) for a variety of reasons. Commonly, spousal support awards are considered in divorces with significant assets or when one party has a substantial earning ability. The most common factor considered when awarding spousal support is the court’s desire to allow the lower-earning spouse to maintain a standard of living similar to that enjoyed by the parties when they were married. Texas law also allows spousal support to be awarded in other circumstances. Alimony can be awarded in the event that one spouse has an injury or disability that would prevent them from earning enough to support their basic needs after the divorce. The Texas Court of Appeals recently affirmed a trial court’s decision awarding spousal support to a disabled woman whose current and future earning ability was reduced based on her disability.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the couple married in 1987 and were married for 30 years before the husband filed for divorce. There were no children from the marriage, so the divorce proceeding was centered on dividing the parties’ marital estate and the wife’s request for spousal support. According to the opinion, the couple did not share an extremely valuable marital estate, and each party earned less than $50,000 per year in annual gross income. The husband earned approximately 33% more per hour than the wife working as a heavy equipment operator. At trial, the wife was awarded spousal support in the amount of $450 per month from the husband for a period of 5 years following the divorce. The court found that the wife suffered from a disability that reduced her ability to work, and which would likely worsen with time, further preventing her from supporting her short-term needs after the divorce.

The husband appealed the judgment to the Texas Court of Appeals, arguing that the wife did not sufficiently prove that she was disabled and that her earnings ability was insufficient to support her short-term needs. Specifically, the husband argued that the wife received other assets in the divorce that she could liquidate if she needed to support herself after the divorce. The appellate court rejected the husband’s arguments, finding that the wife used the testimony of a credible medical expert to establish her disability and that the lower court’s decisions concerning spousal support were supported by the facts of the case and relevant Texas law. As a result of the appellate decision, the husband will be required to pay the spousal support in full unless other conditions are met which would remove his obligation.

In a recent Texas case involving spousal maintenance between two divorcing parties, a Texas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court decision, holding that the wife was entitled to the level of spousal maintenance that the trial court had awarded her. The couple was married in 2010 and had one child together. In April 2018 the husband filed for divorce and the wife responded with a counter-petition for divorce. At trial, the wife was awarded spousal maintenance of $800 per month. The husband filed an appeal raising two issues claiming that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding spousal maintenance.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the wife testified regarding her educational background, her work history, and the health difficulties she had been facing. Specifically, she described how she needs daily dialysis while awaiting a kidney transplant. Her dialysis treatments can be done at home, but the treatment requires her to be physically connected to a machine for up to ten hours. While receiving treatment, she was able to move freely about the house, generally completing tasks and caring for her child.

Additionally, she testified regarding her education and ability to work. The wife testified that she received her bachelor’s degree in architecture and that she was employed as an architect by a company named Bella Homes. Her employment with Bella Homes was part-time, and she received $12.25 an hour, and due to her health, she was unable to work more than 24 hours a week. If she remained sitting for more than three or four hours at a time, her legs would begin swelling. When she initially began receiving dialysis treatment, she was not able to work at all, but after a time, her doctor cleared her to begin again. Most vitally, the wife testified that she would not be able to afford her dialysis treatment without her husband’s medical insurance. Based on her research, she estimated that COBRA insurance would cost her approximately $700 per month. At trial, the court awarded her spousal maintenance of $800 per month.

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Spousal maintenance, commonly referred to as spousal support or alimony, refers to financial support that one spouse pays to the other after a Texas divorce. After the Texas Legislature introduced HB901, the state’s spousal maintenance laws underwent massive changes. The expansion increased the possible duration and amount of payments.

Under Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.054 courts do not automatically award spousal maintenance, and instead, these determinations fall under a “rebuttable presumption” that support is not needed. Spousal support can drastically impact a person’s livelihood, and individuals should consult with a Texas divorce attorney to request or rebut spousal maintenance.

Recently, a Texas appellate court issued an opinion addressing a Husband’s challenge to a trial court’s spousal maintenance order. According to the record, the trial court entered the order on December 5, 2010, requiring the Husband to pay his ex-wife $5,000 a month through February 28, 2027. Husband argues that the order exceeds the limitations under Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 8.054(a)(1)(B) and 8.055(a)(2). Under certain circumstances, these laws prohibit spousal maintenance orders that remain in effect for more than seven years after the date of the order. Further, the statute prohibits maintenance orders that require payment exceeding 20 percent of the obligor’s monthly gross income.

Pre-nuptial agreements, called premarital agreements under Texas law, are frequently in the news and even in pop culture references (shout-out to Kanye West).  You may think that living in Dallas, Kaufman, or Rockwall County that you don’t need to worry about a premarital agreement, but they can be a very valuable tool. No one likes to think about divorce at the beginning of their marriage, but with the amount of marriages that end in divorce it can be extremely helpful to get an agreement in writing ahead of time to make sure that a divorce can be as painless as possible.

What are the requirements for a premarital agreement in Texas?

In Texas, a premarital agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties. It is pretty much that simple. There are many things that may be contracted for in a premarital agreement but one major thing that is NOT allowed to be modified in certain ways in a premarital agreement is child support. You can’t completely get rid of (the statute says, “adversely affect”) child support. It makes sense because it seems like bad policy to have a child suffer because of an agreement of the parties that was possibly made before they were even born.

You are divorced and in your final orders you were awarded spousal maintenance on the basis of your disability and inability to earn sufficient income.  So, you went through all of the stages of proving your disability and proving that you could not earn the money that you need to meet your minimum reasonable needs and the judge ordered that your ex-spouse a certain amount per month to you for a certain period of time.  As you know, spousal maintenance is governed by Chapter 8 of the Family Code and with respect to a disabled spouse, it does state that maintenance can be ordered for as long as the disability persists (longer than the statutorily limited period of time).  If it is nearing the ending date of your receipt of the monthly spousal support payments, you are becoming worried because you do not know what you are going to do at this point.  Can you seek further maintenance from the Court because you are still disabled and need the money to survive?

This question was directly addressed in Stephanie Ann Novick v. Andrew A. Shervin by the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas.  There, the trial court held that the wife was “presently disabled” and ordered that the husband should pay her “$2000 per month for 24 months.”  When the time was drawing near for the husband’s payments to cease, the wife filed a motion to modify to continue the support payments and the trial court dismissed that claim to which the wife appealed.  Therefore, the Dallas Court of Appeals had to determine whether or not the trial court erred in failing to honor the wife’s request in continuing the spousal support payments.  In doing do, the Court reviewed a few other appellate cases involving this particular issue to seek guidance which led the Court to render a bright line rule to determine whether or not the support payments could be continued.

The Court held, “An award of spousal maintenance in a divorce decree is properly the subject of a motion for continuance only if the decree indicates the trial judge intended to make the award pursuant to section 8.054(b) rather than 8.054(a).”  Section 8.054(b) allows a trial court to find the spouse disabled (giving guidance as to how and what it means) and in finding the spouse to be disabled, the trial court will make an award of maintenance.  This award can be made subject to periodic request based upon the request of either party and also subject to a motion to modify.  However, Section 8.504(a)  places a duration limit on how long the court can award the maintenance for (5 years) and states that a trial court must render the shortest period possible unless the spouse’s ability to earn income is totally diminished by physical or mental disability.    The key for this Court was that you can seek continuance of the maintenance if the award was under Section 8.054(b).  An example of this type of award would be where a spouse is found to be permanently disabled, awarded spousal maintenance for longer than 5 years, and the Court also order that the spouse receiving support can seek continuance beyond the court-ordered termination date.

Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code governs spousal maintenance, Texas’ own form of “alimony”.   Spousal maintenance is not easily obtained by divorcing parties; in fact, the legislature has created a pretty high threshold.  But, the issue becomes what if you have an out of state decree that speaks to spousal support and then you have the spouse ordered to pay subsequently wanting to get out of that arrangement?  This is the exact issue that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed in In the Interest of L.T.H., R.R.H., and A.W.H., Minor Children.

In that case, the wife appealed a trial court’s ruling to refuse to enforce a California divorce decree modification and the husband’s obligation to pay spousal support.   In California, husband and wife were divorced, subsequently modified the divorce decree in California with a settlement agreement, and entered a reformed decree.  Then, everyone subsequently moved to Texas.  Later, the wife sought to enforce against the husband several times due to his nonpayment of the spousal support and child support.  After the first enforcement, the parties signed a mediated settlement agreement agreeing to certain terms regarding the spousal support (payment was definitely one of those terms) and then an order was subsequently entered.   The wife had to seek a subsequent enforcement due to the husband not paying again pursuant to the orders and in that case, the trial court ordered that they could not enforce the modification of the California decree and ordered that wife take-nothing.  However, the Court of Appeals thought differently and reversed and remanded ruling that they would strictly comply with the parties’ MSA, uphold the MSA and the parties’ agreement.

The Court of Appeals reviewed this case under contract law, which is sometimes unusual when discussing family law cases.  However, most people forget that every agreement entered into (when the proper elements are present), create a contract between the parties that can be enforceable as such.  The Court of Appeals looked to previous appellate decisions to reach this decision such as Schwartz v. Schwartz which held that “When such an agreement is executed by the parties and incorporated into the judgment of a divorce, it is binding upon the parties, and is interpreted under general contract law.”  Schwartz v. Schwartz, 247 S.W.3d 804, 806 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2008, no pet.).   Therefore, the Court would not review the MSA under Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code stating that this was a contract turned into a court order which did not effectively create court ordered maintenance under the Texas Family Code.

Many people avoid getting divorces because they cannot afford to do so.  They know that they depend upon the other spouse’s income in order to continue paying the bills.  You are not alone in wondering how you will be able to afford everything during and after your divorce.  You know you cannot stay married and you know you need financial assistance at least with some of the bills.

Fortunately, Texas does allow for temporary spousal support while your divorce case is pending.  During initial consults with clients, the question always arises on income, who is going to stay in the marital residence, and if financial assistance is needed.  If it is, then clients will complete a financial information sheet for temporary orders hearing purposes which will be filed.  This allows the judge to see your income and expenses, your spouse’s income and expenses, and any expenses associated with the child.  It is basically a breakdown of your household monthly income and expenses so that the judge can determine whether or not you truly have a need and if your spouse has enough income to make up for the deficit.  In most cases, and especially if the spouse has already been doing so, the court will order the spouse to continue paying the bills that they have already been paying after separation and prior to the court date.  For instance, if your spouse has already moved out of the home but they have continued to pay the mortgage after moving out, then we would ask the court to maintain that status quo while the case is pending.

Additionally, if you have a child and you are awarded the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child then the other parent will most likely be paying child support.  This is additional assistance for you. If it is only one child, it would be 20% of the other parent’s monthly net resources.  The percentage goes up with the number of children.

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