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How does long-term spousal support work?

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In my previous article, we talked about how a person in a divorce case can get temporary support to maintain "minimum reasonable needs" per the Texas Family Code. But once the divorce becomes final, assets are divided, and child support amounts are determined, it is possible for long-term support to be part of the divorce decree.

However, there's a presumption against spousal support in the Texas Family Code. It will be incumbent on the person asking for support to rebut the presumption by demonstrating that he or she cannot meet minimum reasonable needs without it. But, again, the standard is for "minimum reasonable needs." Each judge has a personalized definition of what constitutes minimum reasonable needs.

Those asking for support will have to show the court that they made efforts to try to meet their minimum reasonable needs, such as searching for jobs or continuing their education towards a new career. Judges will look at the efforts being made during the divorce case to see if someone asking for spousal support is thinking about the realities of post-divorce life and post-divorce budgeting. It's understandable that someone who has been a stay-at-home parent for 20 years would need support while the divorce is in process, but if the divorce has been underway for a year and the person receiving temporary support isn't seeking employment or education, the judge might determine that person hasn't rebutted the presumption.

If a spouse put aside a career plan to become a stay-at-home parent--let's say, after two years of a four-year degree--the court would likely consider awarding spousal support during the time required to finish that program. The same goes for a spouse who needs to regain credentials in order to be able to successfully reenter the job market or to upgrade to full-time or higher-paying work in order to provide for minimum reasonable needs under post-divorce circumstances.

I advise any client seeking that kind of support to have a specific plan mapped out as much as possible: Know the school where you'd resume studies, know how long it will take to finish, determine as best you can (given the job market) how long after graduation it might take to land a job. Keep a job search log. Know the current jobs available for which you are qualified.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about spousal support is that it's not meant to last forever. The judge may award up to three, five, or seven years of support for a couple married 10, 20, or 30 years, but you won't find a judge offering that full extent of support in most cases. It's really designed to get those spouses who haven't been working back on their feet. While it can certainly be helpful to those who receive it, it should always be thought of as supplemental and temporary, and those awarded support should make the most of it for the time they have it.

During your consultation at the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance, we'll go over your rights and options with regards to contemplated spousal support to assist you in planning for your future.

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