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.
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.