The Process for Amending a Divorce Decree to Pursue Spousal Maintenance
When you’re involved in a divorce, the emotional turmoil can make it difficult to think clearly, leading to decisions that don’t work for you. Furthermore, circumstances can change dramatically after a divorce is final, such that the provisions of your divorce decree are inadequate to meet your needs. What are your options if you don’t seek alimony or spousal maintenance, but later (after the court has issued the final divorce order), you discover that you lack the resources to be self-sufficient and the necessary job training or experience to be gainfully employed? Can you go back to the court after a divorce is final and ask for changes in the support order? If so, what do you have to do?
A Divorce Decree May Always Be Modified
In Texas, a divorce judgment is not permanently set in stone but may be amended under certain conditions. First, you must typically wait at least one year from the date the original decree is signed. Furthermore, you must show a substantial change in your circumstances in order to justify a change in spousal support. The judge determines on a case-by-case basis whether there has been such a change in circumstances. Examples of factors considered when making such an assessment include:
- childcare changes that affect the custodial parent’s ability to work;
- change in either party’s financial circumstances;
- change in a party’s employment status; and
- change in possession (custody) and access (visitation), or change in the child’s primary residence.
Texas Laws Related to Spousal Maintenance or Alimony
Texas takes a somewhat different approach to alimony or spousal maintenance, starting with the presumption that such an award is not appropriate. Parties to a divorce may always agree to “contractual alimony,” where the parties voluntarily enter into a binding agreement to have one party make support payments to the other party. In such a relationship, the parties have absolute freedom to determine the amount, frequency and duration of such payments. The court won’t review such an agreement for fairness and will only enforce the agreement in a manner similar to a commercial contract.
In very limited circumstances, a court may order one spouse to pay maintenance to the other spouse, either permanently or for a specific period of time. Under Texas law, to qualify for alimony, one spouse must show that she or he lacks sufficient property, assets or income to meet reasonable minimum needs. Furthermore, a spouse won’t qualify for a spousal maintenance order unless it can be shown that:
- The parties were married at least 10 years, and the requesting spouse cannot obtain employment that will produce enough income to meet reasonable minimum needs;
- The requesting spouse has a disability, which occurred during the marriage, that prevents her or him from earning the necessary income to be self-sufficient
- The requesting party is caring for a disabled child of the marriage, thereby preventing him or her from obtaining gainful employment and becoming self-sufficient; or
- The party from whom support is sought has been convicted of domestic violence during the two-year period prior to the filing of the divorce complaint.
Contact Our Experienced Divorce and Family Law Attorneys
At the law office of Bailey & Galyen, we offer a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment to speak with one of our skilled attorneys, contact us by e-mail or call our offices at 844-402-2992. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.