Disabled Spouse Only Gets $600 Alimony in Her Divorce

Are you concerned about financial security and independence after going through a divorce? If you are, then you are not alone. Many people ask if they will have enough income to survive. While others wonder how much of their income they are going to lose each month. These questions become even more critical when one side is living on disability benefits and the other is doing well. Each case is different, but in a recent case the judge awarded a disabled spouse $600 a month in spousal maintenance. Her husband was making $100,000 a year at the time. Let’s take a closer look at how this happened.

What Is Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is basically the same as alimony. We just use different words down here in Texas. If you want the technical legal definition, it is an award of “periodic payments from the future income of one spouse for the support of the other spouse.”

Why Do We Have Spousal Maintenance?

There are a lot of reasons a judge can order spousal maintenance in your case. Honestly though, many times it comes down to what the judge considers “fair” (whatever that means) even though that is not the proper legal factor. If you want the full legal explanation, here it is.

The purpose of spousal maintenance is “to provide temporary and rehabilitative support for a spouse whose ability for self-support is lacking or has deteriorated over time while engaged in homemaking activities and whose capital assets are insufficient to provide support.”

Does Your Divorce Attorney Even Have to Address Alimony?

Many cases do not involve alimony for one simple reason, length of the marriage. The starting point for any spousal maintenance is the duration of your marriage. Your marriage must be at least 10 years long. The judge can’t award you alimony if your marriage is shorter than 10 years  except for family violence cases.

There is an exception for this however. The length of marriage requirement only applies to an order imposed by a judge. If your Montgomery County divorce lawyer negotiates a mutual settlement, then you can structure part of the settlement as alimony even if your marriage is less than 10 years. So even though it may not be available from a judge, income payments are always on the table if that is a key settlement issue. It is not uncommon for one side to value income more than assets.

If you meet the length of marriage requirement, then you have to prove your minimum reasonable needs.

He Makes $100k, She’s on Disability

Meet Mark and Sherrie. In this case, Sherrie was 61. She was unemployed and on disability for 22 years. Before that, she worked at AT&T for 18 years before leaving due to her disability. Interesting side note, this case reminds us that receiving Social Security disability does not automatically require a divorce court to also rule you are disabled when it comes to alimony.

Sherrie’s husband Mark worked for IBM. He earned $100,000 per year.

That’s quite a difference between the two of them isn’t it? You would think she would be able to get a decent sized alimony award with that huge disparity, wouldn’t you?

Sherrie claimed her monthly expenses were $5,495. Therefore, she requested spousal maintenance of $2,400 per month for 15 years in order to be able to pay those expenses.

Minimum Reasonable Needs for Alimony

Unfortunately there is no universal amount or test for minimum reasonable needs. The facts of each case determine the result. However, the key here is “minimum.”

The judge is not going to rely on a previous well-off standard of living as being indicative of minimum reasonable needs. Similarly, the judge is not going to divert extra income from a well off spouse to the other spouse just because the wealthy spouse “can afford it.”

This calculation is exclusively focused on your minimum needs and whatever your ex earns or owns has nothing to do with this. Evidence is key.

Assets Can Be “A Problem”

Sherrie looked like she had a good case. Mark was making a lot of money and she was fighting to survive on disability benefits. Unfortunately for Sherrie, the judge looks at more than just income. The rule is a court may order spousal maintenance for either spouse “only if the spouse seeking maintenance will lack sufficient property, including the spouse’s separate property, on dissolution of the marriage to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs.”

Here, Sherrie received the marital home. That was worth $265,000 with equity of $92,000. On top of that, she also received half of Mark’s pension and 401k. So, while Sherrie did not have a lot of income, she did have other assets and additional income available to her. The judge decided Sherrie was closer to meeting her minimum reasonable needs after adding in her assets than she thought she was.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Sherrie wanted $432,000 in total spousal maintenance. That is $2,400 a month for 15 years. She ended up getting $43,200 in the final ruling in the form of $600 a month for seven years. That’s a pretty good reminder of how differently the judge can see your case from how you see your case.

Your Divorce Lawyer May Get More or Less Alimony Than a Judge Can Order

Remember, the case I described above happened when both parties left the Texas judge to decide spousal maintenance. You can do that also if you’re feeling lucky.

However, if you are concerned about being on the wrong end of an outcome like this, or just want to have more of a voice in the final outcome, then speak to your Woodlands Divorce Attorney about collaborative divorce.

Why? The main reason is you have a lot more flexibility in crafting a settlement agreement than a judge has in what he can award. For example, in a settlement agreement you can agree to a higher payout for a shorter duration. Alternatively, you can agree to a lower payout for a longer duration. This flexibility is a huge benefit when one side has more assets or income than the other spouse.

If you punt disputes to the judge they consider a small set of factors the law tells them to, but there are a lot more real life factors they are not considering. A collaborative divorce can fill in those gaps. It can also give you the input you desire and the flexibility to address your concerns. But, once you leave questions like this up to the judge, you simultaneously take it out of your hands and you get stuck with the outcome so get those dice ready.

13-16-00545-CV – O’Quinn