A regrettable truth in family law often finds one parent unilaterally removing a child from the other parent while dissolving a marriage without any grounds or evidence of wrongdoing. Not surprisingly, disturbing numbers of children are routinely separated from loving, responsible parents for reasons that have nothing to do with their wishes, safety, health, or welfare and many times have to do with a lack of proper legal counsel.
In 50% of the marriages that end in divorce, 80% of these are over the objection of one spouse (close to 100% when children are involved). I am sure you have heard about “custody battles,” but you probably do not know that many start out with one parent taking a child from the other and refusing visitation until a court orders possession sometimes months down the line. You have heard about the witch hunt for “deadbeat dads,” but did you know that many of these fathers are well educated men who have lost their jobs due to a downtrodden economy and still love their children and want to play a leading role in their lives and upbringing. You have heard the hysteria over “child abuse,” but did you know that many accusations against fathers are shown to be false and used by one parent as a weapon to alienate the children from the other parent.
David Popenoe in his book “Life Without Father” tells us that negative consequences of fatherlessness are all around us. Evidence indicating damage to children growing up in fatherless homes has accumulated in near tidal-wave proportions. Fatherless children experience significantly more physical, emotional, and behavioral problems than do children growing up in intact families.
Children from fatherless homes are:
- 5 times more likely to commit suicide
- 32 times more likely to run away
- 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
- 14 times more likely to commit rape
- 9 times more likely to drop out of high school
- 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
- 9 times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution
- 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
(Information from Mark Hall, Father’s Manifesto).
In “My Rewar, My Punishment…My Son, Sons of Divorce,” Steven Manchester describes the situation many dads are dealing with when exercising visitation:
“I’d take my son for our court-ordered visits, only to drop him off two hours later, so another man could bounce him off his lap. Ironically, each new boyfriend was given all the time he wanted with my son. At first, it killed me, but I decided, “Whatever’s best for my boy. His happiness must come first!” Though it stung terribly, that attitude sustained me all the way to Christmas.
I waited in my old driveway for 4 excruciating hours, while three inches of snow muffled the screams from the cab of my truck. When they finally pulled in, my ex-wife snickered, “I must have lost track of time?” and handed over my son. I was livid! My boy was dead tired and half-asleep. And the EX…well…she just grinned, confident that there was nothing I could do about it. It took everything I had left to conceal my tears. I didn’t plan to give her anything for Christmas and was doing my best to stick to the plan.”
It is a sad scenario.
In divorce court, many fathers are left feeling that everything they have done, years of hard work, years of tender love, years of unstinting devotion to their family and children count as nothing.
In the 1960’s women fought hard to get laws passed to protect them against family violence, stalking and sexual harassment. The shame is that women of the 1990’s now use these same needed and appropriate laws wrongfully to their advantage and feel justified in punishing their spouse for wrongs they feel have been done to them by misusing the legal system; and in the process erase fathers from the lives of their children!
The facts are that many times the courtroom becomes a legal battleground. Inadequate counsel or absence of counsel can result in decisions that negatively affect children and the family for years to come.
Texas House Bill 901 changing the spousal maintenance law in the Texas Family Code became effective for divorce cases filed on or after September 1, 2011. The bill revises the conditions that establish eligibility for spousal maintenance, commonly referred to as alimony, and changes the factors required to be considered by a court in determining the nature, amount, duration, and manner of periodic payments for a spouse who is eligible to receive maintenance.
Eligibility for spousal maintenance requires that the spouse seeking maintenance lack sufficient property to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs.
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 Texas spousal support law are:
1. The maximum amount of spousal support that courts may award increased 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 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 clarified 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 clarified 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 requires 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 was 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.