In Texas, Prenuptial Agreements are becoming a very important tool for prospective spouses in the event of future marital problems. With the rise in divorce rates and more boomer/senior remarriages, many people with assets are turning to a marital contract to sidestep a potentially difficult and very expense divorce.
A prenuptial agreement allows prospective spouses to, legally in advance, specifically define rights and obligations to each other and further allows spouses to decide their future marital property rights with relativity minimal judicial actions. A prenuptial agreement, in Texas, can cover any matter except:
Violate public policy or a statute imposing criminal penalties
Adversely affect a child’s right to support
Defraud a creditor
Texas Family Code 4.003(a)(8), (b),4.106(a).
Among the permissible provisions that parties can list in a prenuptial agreement are the following:
Rights and obligations of any interest, present or future, legal or equitable, vested or contingent, in real or personal property.
Right to manage, control and dispose, by agreement, property upon separation of the married parties, dissolution of the marriage, death of either party, or other agreed event.
Modify or eliminate spousal support.
Specific matters related to prospective spouses, including personal rights and obligations that are not in violation of state laws.
Choice of a state or country law that will govern the prenuptial agreement.
Creation of a Will or Trust.
Disposing of the Estate upon the death of one of the spouses. Also ownership rights and disposition of benefits from a life insurance policy upon the death.
Waive one party’s right to occupy the family homestead after the other party dies.
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 child 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.
In September 1, 2011, Texas House Bill 901 ( Texas HB 901 ) revised the spousal maintenance law in the Texas Family Code effective for divorce cases filed on or after September 1, 2011. The bill revised 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 still requires that the spouse seeking maintenance lacks sufficient property to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs.
The 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.
Some of the major items in 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 it is still limited to 20 percent of the payer’s average gross monthly income.
2. The duration of spousal support in Texas is a maximum of 5, 7 or 10 years, generally depending on the length of the marriage.
3. The law clarifies 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 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.
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.
What about Termination?
a. The obligation to pay future maintenance terminates on the death of either party or on the remarriage of the oblige.
b. After a hearing, the court shall order the termination of the maintenance obligation if the court finds that the obligee cohabits with another person with whom the obligee has a dating or romantic relationship in a permanent place of abode on a continuing basis.
c. Termination of the maintenance obligation does not terminate the obligation to pay any maintenance that accrued before the date of termination, whether as a result of death or remarriage
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 the provisions of the law.
If only divorced parents could mutually agree on meaningful possession schedules while co-parenting their kids! But since many cannot or will not, the Texas Courts generally use a One-Size-Fits-All Standard Possession order for all children over three years of age. The Texas Legislature over time has expanded the schedule to make access a little more flexible. Does this always squarely meet or suit the needs of a child and her/his relationship with both parents?
The Section 153.001 of the Texas Family Code is the State’s policy on possession schedules and its formation:
Assure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interests of their child;
Provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child;
Encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child after the parents have separated or dissolved the marriage.
The Texas Family Code, section 153.002 also states that “the best interest of the child shall always be the primary consideration of the court in determining the issues of conservatorship, possession of, and access of the child”. Because of this the Texas Courts are given wide range in determining a child’s best interest in possession schedules.
What about fair and equal Parent Possession Schedules? This is easier desired than accomplished! In E. Mavis Hetherington’s book, For Better or for Worse, Three types of co-parenting relationships are identified:
Conflicted: Parents have frequent conflict, communicate badly, and have difficulty disengaging emotionally from the marriage (20-25%)
Parallel: Parents who emotionally disengage from each other, with little communication and who usually do not coordinate child-related issues between themselves although conflict is minimal. (Over 50%)
Cooperative: Parents who work together to actively plan their children’s lives and support each other. They work toward conflict free possession schedules in a nurturing parenting situation. (25%-30%)
Despite many separation and divorce related conflicts among parents, the main beneficial recipients of shared parenting are the children. When both parents are positively engaged in the parent-child relationship, probabilities are much higher for positive adjustment, better academic achievement and positive mental development of a child.
In Johnston & Campbell’s book, Impasses of Divorce, their findings support that the majority of parents substantially reduce their pre marital conflict within 2-3 years after divorce. Regrettably, 8%-20% of parents remain in a state of chronic high conflict!
How can Parents promote or enhance shared parenting in possession schedules?
Many parents will usually find a way or the mechanism to eventually work together for the benefit of the child, no matter how contentious the divorce. Even if shared parenting is not possible, parallel co-parenting reducing conflict may be acceptable. But if the parental conflict is high, try to use and enforce a possession schedule that limits parent contact during possession exchanges of the child and accordingly reduce conflict opportunity.
Parents: Leave your conflicts at home. You are divorced! Concentrate on what is best for your child. You are the lifetime primary example for your child on how families communicate. Be mature and responsible and show your child that no matter what has occurred in the past, and regardless of fault, your joint goal is an emotionally healthy child over the long haul.