Spousal support law continues to evolve in Texas; but like the hot, dry summer days which seem to creep along, the process moves slowly.
Governor Rick Perry signed HB 901 on June 17, 2011. The law is effective for Texas divorce cases filed on or after September 1, 2011. In 1995, Texas was the 50th state to pass a law providing for spousal support and has been one of the most restrictive in the nation.
The new law provides potentially increased relief to spouses who have been out of the work force, are disabled, are victims of family violence or are the primary custodians of a disabled child.
Major changes to the spousal support law are:
1. The maximum amount of spousal support that courts may award increases from $2,500 to $5,000.00 per month, although still limited to 20 percent of the payer’s average gross monthly income.
2. The duration of spousal support is extended from a maximum of 3 years to a maximum of 5, 7 or 10 years, generally depending on the length of the marriage.
3. The law clarifies that if a person has primary care for a disabled child, the custodial parent may be prevented because of the child’s disability from earning sufficient income to meet the custodial parent’s minimum reasonable needs.
4. The law also clarifies that a person may not be held in contempt for failing to pay spousal support which is in an agreed order and extends beyond the period of time provided under the law.
In order to receive “maintenance,” (which is the statutory term for spousal support), the spouse seeking support must lack sufficient property to provide for the spouse’s “minimum reasonable needs”, AND one of the following:
(1) The recipient must be unable to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs because of an incapacitating mental or physical disability;
(2) The marriage lasted for 10 years or longer and the recipient lacks the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs;
(3) The recipient is the custodian of a child of the marriage of any age who required substantial care and personal supervision because of a physical or mental disability that prevents the spouse from earning sufficient income to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs; OR
(4) The person ordered to pay support must have been convicted of or received deferred jurisdiction for an act of family violence during the pendency of the suit or within two years of the date the suit is filed.
Under the previous law, under most circumstances, the court could only order maintenance for a maximum of three years, regardless of the length of the marriage. Under the new law, the court can order maintenance to continue for:
(1) 5 years if the parties were married less than 10 years and the maintenance is awarded due to family violence;
(2) 5 years if the parties were married more than 10 years, but less than 20 years.
(3) 7 years if the parties were married more than 20 years, but less than 30 years;
(4) 10 years if the parties were married for more than 30 years.
In cases where the maintenance is awarded due to the mental or physical disability of the spouse or a child of the marriage, the court may order that the maintenance continue as long as the disability continues.
However, in all circumstances, the law provides that the Court shall order maintenance for the shortest reasonable period that allows the recipient to earn sufficient income to meet his or her reasonable needs.
If you are contemplating dissolving your marriage and have questions concerning your financial future, seek competent legal counsel to help you determine whether you could be eligible for spousal support under the expanded provisions of the new law.
To file for a divorce in Texas, you must be a Texas Resident for 6 months, and you must have lived within the county you plan to file in for at least 90 days immediately prior to filing of your divorce petition. Time spent by a Texas resident outside of Texas, while in the military, satisfies the residency requirement in Texas for a divorce.
Texas does not recognize legal separations.
It is possible to get a divorce even though the other party does not want the divorce to take place. Texas is a “no fault divorce state.” “No fault” means that one spouse does not have to prove the other spouse has done anything wrong in order to obtain a divorce. You cannot be held to a marriage because your spouse does not want to sign or refuses to participate in the divorce process. The court will enter divorce orders even if the other party refuses to sign them.
Texas requires a minimum 60 day waiting period before any divorce can be finalized. The 60 day period begins to run from the time the Original Petition for Divorce is actually filed with the court. In other words, the shortest time it will take to finalize a divorced in Texas is 61 days. On occasion, in domestic violence cases, there is an exception to the 60 day rule. If the parties are in agreement, a divorce proceeding can be finalized immediately following the sixty-day waiting period. On average, however, the time period is more likely to run 90 to 120 days in an uncontested divorce due to the crowding of court dockets and the time necessary for counsel to draft necessary legal documents and obtain the agreement of both parties regarding the wording of the final documents. If the parties are not in agreement, the time necessary to finalize the divorce will depend on the conduct of both parties and their attorneys, the court’s schedule, the matters in controversy and the complexity of the contested issues. From start to finish, the divorce process may go through a number of phases which might include temporary orders, exchange of financial information, psychological evaluations (in custody cases), alternative dispute resolution, trial, and appeal. A divorce in which the parties are deeply in opposition to an agreement on some or all of the core issues may take anywhere from several months to several years to complete.
As to the division of marital assets, Texas is a community property state. For more information on community and separate property, see our blog, Divorce: What is separate property and what is community property.
It is important to remember that, although the statutory waiting period to finalize a divorced is 60 days, it is more likely than not that your divorce will “not” be finalized on the 61st day following the filing of your petition for divorce.
Co-parenting with an ex-spouse or partner gives children stability and fosters similar rules, discipline and rewards between households. It promotes a child’s ability to more effectively and peacefully solve problems and establishes a life pattern children can carry into the future.
Effective co-parenting means that your own emotions – anger, resentment or hurt – must take back seat to the needs of your children. Setting aside these feelings may be the hardest obstacle to overcome after a divorce. It is important that you remember, co-parenting is not about your feelings, or those of your ex-spouse, but rather about your children’s future happiness and stability.
The following are useful tips to assist you with co-parenting in the future.
- Do not talk negatively, or allow others to talk negatively, about the other parent, their family and friends or their home in hearing range of the child.
- Do not question the children about the other parent or the activities of the other parent regarding their personal lives. In simple terms, do not use the child to spy on the other parent.
- Do not argue or have heated discussions with the other parent when the children are present or during an exchange.
- Do not make promises to the children to try and win them over at the expense of the other parent.
- Communicate with the other parent and make similar rules in reference to discipline, bedtime routines, sleeping arrangements, and schedules. Appropriate discipline should be exercised by mutually agreed of both parents.
- At all times, the decision made by the parents should be for the child’s psychological, spiritual, and physical well-being and safety.
- Visitation arrangements should be made and confirmed beforehand between the parents without involving the child in order to avoid any false hopes, disappointments or resentments toward the other parent.
- Notify the other parent in a timely manner of the need to deviate from the order, including cancelling visits, rescheduling appointments, and promptness.
- Do not schedule activities for the child during the other parent’s period of possession without the other parent’s consent. However, both parents should work together to allow the child to be involved in extracurricular activities.
- Inform the other parent of any scholastic, medical, psychiatric, or extracurricular activity or appointments of the child.
- Keep the other parent informed at all times of your address and telephone number. If you are out of town with the child, provide the other parent the address and phone number where your children may be reached in case of an emergency.
- Refer to the other parent as the child’s mother or father in conversation, rather than using the parents first or last name.
- Do not bring the child into adult issues and adult conversations about custody, the court, or about the other party.
- Do not ask the child where they want to live.
- Do not attempt to alienate the other parent from the child’s life.
- Do not allow stepparents or others to negatively alter or modify your relationship with the other parent.
- Do not use phrases that draw the children into your issues or make them feel guilty about time spent with their other parent. For example, rather than saying, “I miss you,” say “I Love You.”
As you begin to co-parent, you and your ex are bound, on occasion, to disagree. It isn’t necessary to meet in person—speaking over the phone or exchanging emails is fine for the majority of conversations. The goal is conflict-free communication, so see which type of contact works best for you. Keep the conversations kid-based.
Remember, respect can go a long way, keep talking, don’t sweat the small stuff, and be willing to compromise.
Premarital and post-marital agreements in Texas have a complex history immersed in the community property presumption, the sate constitution, statutes and case law. Originally, such agreements were found to be unenforceable. But with amendments to the Texas Constitution, evolving statutes, recent case law, and improved draftsmanship, such agreements are now enforceable under contract law.
For some couples living together is a precursor to marriage; for others, there is no intent to ever marry, or the law prohibits the marriage, as in Texas with same sex marriages. The simple fact is, domestic partnership agreements involve a wide variety of circumstances, which may or may not involve the gay or lesbian couple.
Many couples choose to live together so they do not lose certain benefits under current rules of social security, military and insurance disability programs, or to stop those benefits from being taken away from their children. In other cases, couples who are divorced, and who may have children, may want to protect certain assets. In situations such as trust funds or inherited funds, beneficiaries simply do not want to place family money at risk. Other couples choose to shelter their own resources from the real or perceived obligations of their partner.
The marital agreement is considered to be a contract under Texas law. The premarital agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties. No actual consideration is required; however, to conform with contractual law, it may be wise to provide benefits for the non-monied party to avoid a later finding of unconscionability, particularly if the financial condition of the non-monied party under the agreement will be poor.
Matters that may be dealt with in a premarital agreement include, but are not limited to, the following:
- the right to buy, sell, use, transfer, exchange, abandon, lease, consume, expend, assign, create a security interest in, mortgage, encumber, dispose of, or otherwise manage and control property;
- the rights and obligations of each of the parties in any of the property of either or both of them whenever or wherever acquired or located;
- the disposition of property on separation, marital dissolution, death, or the occurrence or nonoccurrence of any other event;
- the modification or elimination of spousal support;
- the making of a will, trust, or other arrangement to carry out the provisions of the agreement;
- the ownership rights in and disposition of the death benefit from a life insurance policy;
- the choice of law governing the construction of the agreement; and
- any other matter, including their personal rights and obligations, not in violation of public policy or a statute imposing a criminal penalty.
Child support may not be adversely affected by a premarital agreement. Therefore, provisions providing for the elimination of child support upon separation or divorce are unenforceable. However, provisions for private education, college expenses, and choice of residence may be included, but may still be reviewed by a court to determine if they are in keeping with public policy.
In post-marital agreements, it has been noted that a fiduciary duty exists that is not present in pre-marital agreements between spouses or prospective spouses. Case law states that a confidential relationship between husband and wife imposes the same duties of good faith and fair dealing on spouses as required of partners and other fiduciaries. However, adverse parties who have retained independent counsel may not owe fiduciary duties to one another. Texas Legislature enacted Section 4.105 with the understanding that married spouses owing fiduciary duties to one another would negotiate and execute post-marital agreements. Not withstanding these duties, the legislature manifested the strong policy preference that voluntarily made post-marital agreements are enforceable.
Cohabitation, domestic partnership, premarital and post-marital agreements may be as creative as a party determines necessary. However, care must be given to see that such agreements protect the party, keep with public policy, and adhere to current Texas family law and applicable contractual law.
Former spouses often use informal visitation arrangements as an opportunity to assault, harass, stalk, and emotional abuse their children and former partners. In addition, some parents will use their children as a means to hurt the other parent by denying access to the child(ren) even though such access has been ordered by the court, i.e. failing to be at home during scheduled visitation periods, failing to bring the child(ren) to a scheduled location for the other parent to exercise their court ordered visitation, faking illness, etc.
Supervised visitation takes place between the non-custodial parent and his or her child(ren) in the presence of a third party who observes the visit to ensure the child’s physical and emotional safety. Though sometimes reasonably and successfully ordered, visits voluntarily supervised by friends and family in their homes can be fraught with danger for the child and parent, as well as the monitor, especially in cases of domestic violence. Family members may trust the parent whose visits are being supervised and therefore may not take proper or sufficient measures to assure the child(ren) are watched or monitored at all times during the visit.
Consequently, when supervision is indicated, possession/visitation supervised by a neutral third party with the capacity to enforce effective safety measures is normally ordered and enforced by the courts. The expenses of such supervision are often excessive and may in themselves create a detriment to possession by a parent. Such agencies may also provide reports and recommendations to the court based on the success or failure of the supervised visits. Such recommendations assist the courts in making informed decisions regarding supervision and whether continued supervision in the best interest of the child(ren).
If supervised visitation is requested, some type of compelling reason and evidence, based on the circumstances surrounding the child(ren) must normally be established. Such evidence may include denial of access, drug addiction, mental or physical abuse, neglect, or severe mental illness of a parent. The following is a potential list of acts and/or circumstances that may be considered contrary to a child’s best interest.
• Violence or physical endangerment – A noncustodial parent may be denied visitation rights if the parent has abused the child or threatened physical violence.
• Emotional harm – Where sufficient proof is offered of potential emotional harm or that standard visitation has detrimentally affected a child’s welfare, supervised visitation may be ordered.
• Child’s wishes – A court may consider the child’s wishes as to visitation. The weight given to a child’s preference is dependent on the child’s age, emotional stability, maturity and motives.
• Abduction – There must be a showing that there is a strong imminent probability of abduction to limit visitation on this basis.
• Substance abuse – A parent who abuses drugs or alcohol may be ordered to supervised visitation restrictions if the conduct endangers the child or if the parent uses abusive language and/or mistreats the child.
• Mental illness –Mental incapacity may be a reason for supervised visitation only if it is determined by the court that there is a reasonable potential for harm to the child due to such mental illness.
• Sexual behavior – Courts rarely deny visitation solely on the basis of a non-marital heterosexual relationship. Courts will, however, cancel overnight visitation by a child with a parent because of the parent’s cohabitation on a showing of an adverse and material negative impact on the child.
• Incarceration – Visitations due to incarceration may be suspended only on a showing that such visits are detrimental to the child.
To have more of your questions answered on supervised visitation in Texas, or for answers to any other Texas child custody concerns you may have, call Dallas Divorce attorney Mark Nacol of the Nacol Law Firm P.C.