When a married couple has a child, the home and childrearing duties are usually not equal. One spouse will typically work more, while the other will be primarily responsible for looking after the children, cooking, caring for any pets and generally making sure the house is in order.
While this may be an ideal situation for some, married couples that decide they want to divorce are going to end up with a complicated situation. The spouse at home put their career on hold, or wasn’t able to advance as far in their career because they were too busy with family tasks. They could have lost out on multiple valuable years in the workforce or not have had the opportunity to go back to college or further their training.
However, at the same time, because they stayed home, the couple didn’t have to pay as much for child caretakers, housekeepers and other hired help. Even though the other spouse was working, both parties financially contributed to the situation in some way.
The judge in a divorce will recognize this, and may award the spouse who stayed at home spousal maintenance.
In Texas, when a married couple divorces, the party that stayed at home might request spousal maintenance, also known as spousal support or alimony. This means that the person who worked would pay a monthly stipend to the one who did not after the Final Decree of Divorce is finalized. This is separate from any division of assets or child support payments that would also be worked out amongst the couple and the judge.
The purpose of spousal support is to ensure that the spouse who stayed at home is able to provide for their basic needs after divorce. For instance, they may need to keep up with car payments and rent/mortgage, which, of course, benefits their children, too. They could use the money to get necessary job training to get back into the workforce as well. It is up to them how they use the funds.
Spousal maintenance does not last forever; there are caps. It may last a maximum of five years if a couple was married 10 to 20 years (or less than 10 years if domestic violence was an issue), seven years if they were married 20 to 30 years, and 10 years if the marriage lasted 30+ years. It will also end if either spouse passes away, if the person receiving the maintenance gets remarried, or upon a Court finding that the person receiving the maintenance is living with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
The amount the paying spouse allocates to the other spouse could be up to 20% of their average gross monthly income, or $5,000, whichever one ends up being less.
The court will take many factors into consideration when determining the exact amount of the spousal maintenance payments. For example, they will look at the spouse receiving support’s history, education level, current employment, or assets they had prior to the marriage. The court also needs to make sure the other spouse can actually pay the amount, so they will look at how much they make and any assets they have.
The spouse seeking maintenance must show the Court that they have exercised diligence in earning sufficient income to provide for their reasonable minimum monthly needs or that the spouse is developing the necessary skills and training to provide for their reasonable minimum monthly needs.
At any time, either spouse can choose to modify spousal maintenance by reducing the payments or ending it altogether.
The one paying could have a good case if they lost their job, became ill, or something else changed for them financially. They should be aware, however, that if they have assets they could potentially liquidate, the judge might still order them to pay the same amount regardless of the job situation.
The receiving spouse could file to modify the payments if they got a job and were able to support themselves or they were living with a new partner and the paying spouse didn’t know.
Whether someone is the receiving or the paying spouse, it’s best to hire a lawyer when asking for spousal maintenance modification. An experienced lawyer will know how to figure out if the paying spouse is hiding certain assets or withholding information in order to make it look like they can’t pay. A lawyer will also be able to help the paying spouse in case the receiving spouse is not being up front and honest about their circumstances.
Whatever the case is, a lawyer can ensure the spousal maintenance modification procedure goes as smoothly as possibly, so that each spouse is treated fairly, and what’s right and fair for both parties ultimately wins out in the end.
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