Monday, August 22, 2011

Legal Separation in Texas

There is no such thing as “legal separation” in Texas. The only legal proceeding for separation is divorce. Once a divorce is filed, the court can make temporary orders concerning the parties, their property, and their children. However, some couples fee they need to be “separated” for a time to determine if their relationship is reconcilable or if divorce is truly necessary. This can cause problems because property and finances may remain joint between the spouses while married.

While there is no such thing as legal separation in Texas, it is possible for spouses desiring a period of separation with separate finances and property to enter into various property agreements, changing the ownership of property from community to separate. However, the consequences of should be carefully considered.

Legally, the spouses would still be married, and may not be completely protected from financial decisions made by their spouse, no matter how careful their planning and detailed their property agreements. Additionally, once the nature of property is changed from community property to separate property, the change in property ownership will remain effective if the separation does in fact lead to a divorce, which may not have been the intent of one or both spouses. The same is also true if the parties do not get divorced, which may have an unintended effect on property distribution upon the death of one of the spouses.

Article by Sarah F. Berry.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What is Spousal Maintenance and when is it available?

Texas has very limited laws regarding the availability of spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is defined under the Texas Family Code as “an award… of periodic payments from the future income of one spouse for the support of the other spouse.” (Tex. Fam. Code § 8.001) In other words, “spousal maintenance” is something of a misnomer – it is actually paid by a former spouse after the divorce is granted and the two persons are no longer married.

Under Texas law, a person is only eligible to receive spousal maintenance if:

1) the other spouse was convicted of an act of family violence that occurred during the two years immediately before the date on which the petition for divorce was filed, or

2) the marriage lasted longer than ten years and the spouse to receive maintenance cannot support himself or herself.

In general, a Texas court may not order spousal maintenance for longer than three years after the divorce is final, and the court will limit the duration of payments to the shortest period of time possible. However, a person may be entitled to receive spousal maintenance for a longer period of time if he or she has an incapacitating physical or mental disability, or is caring for a child with such disability.

Factors in determining whether to award spousal maintenance include:

* the relative financial resources of both spouses,

* the duration of the marriage,

* the age and earning ability of the spouse seeking maintenance,

* the contribution of the spouse as a homemaker,

* infidelity or fraud during the marriage,

* the spouses’ respective education and employment skills, and

* one spouse’s contribution to the other’s earning power.

These factors are not exclusive. In Texas, there is a presumption against spousal maintenance, and it is not available unless the person requesting spousal maintenance has been diligent in seeking employment and improving his or her job skills and employability.

Lastly, the amount of spousal maintenance cannot exceed the smaller of $2,500 per month or twenty percent of average gross income per month of the spouse who is ordered to make payments.

In summary, spousal maintenance is not available unless the party requesting such payments can overcome the presumption against an award of spousal maintenance by providing evidence supporting the various factors, and – even when awarded – the payments are for a limited amount and only for a limited time.

This blog was prepared by Nathaniel Lipanovich and edited by Cynthia W. Veidt.

What is Spousal Support and when is it available?

In contrast to “spousal maintenance” (see related blog topic), Spousal Support in Texas is awarded on a temporary basis while a divorce suit is still pending. This temporary spousal support is meant to provide a financially dependent spouse with income during the divorce while the parties are working on a resolution to their financial situation.

Temporary spousal support is based on the common law duty to support one’s spouse during the marriage, by providing “necessaries” such as food, clothing, shelter and medical care. As a result, an award of temporary spousal support can be taken into account when the court divides the spouses’ community property, since the spouse who is providing such spousal support is entitled to reimbursement from their community estate.

To be entitled to receive temporary spousal support, the requesting spouse must demonstrate that: (1) the parties have a valid marriage, (2) he or she is unable to pay for necessary expenses, and (3) the other spouse can afford to pay the amount of spousal support sought.

If the spouse receiving temporary spousal support remains unable to pay for necessary expenses at the time of the final hearing/trial, he or she should consider requesting spousal maintenance for a period of time after the divorce is granted.

Blog prepared by Nathaniel Lipanovich and edited by Cynthia W. Veidt.