5 Important Things to Know If You're Getting a Divorce in Texas
Divorce laws vary by state. While the Texas divorce process doesn’t impose as many requirements and regulations as some other states do, there are still laws you need to know and follow in order to get your divorce papers. If you don’t follow these state laws, your divorce case may not be finalized, leading to additional headaches, expenses, and lost time before you can get a divorce.
Here are five of the most important divorce laws to know in Texas.
1. Texas is a community property state
Under Texas law, all property acquired during a marriage is community property, equally owned by each spouse and subject to distribution, even in uncontested divorce. Only nine states follow this rule of property division. The rest follow an equitable distribution method.
In a community property state, when you and your spouse purchase something like a home or acquire an asset (including simple paychecks), each of you has full interest in the property. The idea here is that community property is split equally between spouses in divorce.
As with most laws, however, there are exceptions. If the property was acquired as a gift or inheritance, for example, the spouse who received it may be able to keep it separate from distribution during a divorce case. Any property or assets gained prior to a marriage are also usually not subject to community property standards and distribution in divorce.
But even separate property may become marital property if it’s handled incorrectly. Let’s say you inherited $500,000 from a parent. If you were to put that money directly into a marital bank account or begin using the money for marital purposes, you may void the separate status of that money and make it subject to distribution in a divorce.
2. Asset distribution in Texas divorce must be “just and right”
Texas divorce law requires marital assets to be divided in a manner that is “just and right” for the individuals involved. Texas courts consider several factors when determining what is just and right. These may include:
- The age of each spouse
- The earning potential of each spouse
- What each spouse contributed to the marriage
- The education of each spouse
- The wealth acquired during the marriage
Texas courts are not required to split assets and debts 50/50 in your divorce papers. That’s not how the state of Texas defines what is just and right. Instead, courts look at the unique circumstances of each marriage to determine what is just and right in each scenario.
3. How alimony works in Texas
Alimony, also called spousal support, is money paid from one spouse to the other, temporarily or permanently. Texas divorce law actually uses two separate terms to describe alimony:
- Court-ordered spousal maintenance refers to a court’s decision to order one spouse to pay the other a monthly or lump sum amount.
- Contractual alimony occurs when one spouse agrees to pay the other support monthly or in a lump sum.
Even though the second type of spousal support is voluntary, a court still must approve both the amount and the length of time payments are made. For a court to order spousal support, a spouse must prove one of the following conditions exists:
- The marriage lasted at least 10 years
- The spouse requesting support made efforts to earn income or contributed in a non-financial way to the marriage
- The spouse requesting support has a disability that arose during the marriage and which prohibits their ability to earn a living
If a judge determines that a spouse is entitled to alimony, they will also decide how much and how often the supporting spouse must pay. A judge will consider many factors, including:
- The earning capacity of each spouse
- The needs and standard of living of the marriage
- The age and health of each spouse
- Any existing debts and assets
- What one spouse may have given up to support the marriage
Under Texas law, alimony cannot exceed $5,000 per month or 20% of the supporting spouse’s average monthly gross income. Alimony is not always permanent. Many times, alimony is granted during a Texas divorce proceeding only in an effort to help one spouse afford fair legal representation. In longer marriages, it may last until the spouse receiving payments can financially support themselves or until they marry again.
4. How child custody works in Texas
Under Texas law, family courts consider the child's best interest when determining child custody. Child custody is also called conservatorship in Texas family law, so you may see both terms used. In a best-case scenario, both parents agree on a parenting plan that defines how much time each parent gets to spend with the child and who will be responsible for different aspects of the child’s life.
However, if parents cannot agree, a court will decide for them. There are two ways a court will look at custody: joint and sole.
In joint custody or a joint managing conservatorship, the parents share rights and responsibilities related to any child of the marriage. For example, school, religious, and medical decisions will be decided by both parents. Neither parent has unilateral authority to make any major decisions for the child.
In a sole custody situation or a sole managing conservatorship, one parent holds all the rights and responsibilities for the child of the marriage. Sole custody is rare and only occurs when there is a substantial reason why one parent should be excluded from parental rights. This often happens when one parent is incarcerated, has a history of violence or abuse, or has been absent from the child’s life.
The parent who receives sole custody will have more control over the child’s life and how much time they get to spend with the other parent.
While courts in the state of Texas always consider the best interest of the child, they also look at other factors:
- The age of the child
- The child’s preference, if they are of sufficient age
- The emotional ties each parent has with their child
- The ability of each parent to care for the child
- Any existing child custody arrangements
- Histories of abuse, violence, or other issues affecting the child
5. How child support works in Texas
Child support is governed by Texas law. The amount of child support one spouse receives depends on many factors, including how much money the paying spouse makes and how many minor children are being supported.
The family court will also consider:
- Each parent’s ability to provide a stable environment
- The earning potential of each parent
- How much time each parent spends with their child
Child support is not limitless. Even though the state has an interest in having minor children financially supported by both parents, it doesn’t want to make one parent destitute by forcing them to pay too much child support. So, for one child, family law limits the amount of child support to 20% of the net income of the paying parent. This amount is calculated after taxes and all necessary living expenses for the parent.
The divorce process can feel overwhelming. But with the right support and guidance, it’s a difficult yet surmountable task. Hello Divorce can help you get through this challenging part of your life so you can obtain your final decree of divorce and move on with your life. We offer affordable plans to help get the job done right. Click here to schedule a free 15-minute phone call to learn more about how we can help.