The Family Courthouse is paved with women who claim the system is against them. Many feel that they waited too long and some wish they had tried harder to reconcile. Beyond the emotional wasteland left by a divorce, a divorced woman has many economical regrets. Here are two I have heard over and over again:
1. That they didn’t stay employed.
Some women report being frustrated that they were not entitled to spousal maintenance or did not get as much as they would have liked. This is especially true for the homemaker, but in our changing society where women are increasingly doing the “bread winning,” it can be true for husbands as well. Texas law allows for monthly spousal maintenance (a/k/a support) up to $5,000 or 20% of an ex-spouse’s gross income, whichever is lower, if a spouse can prove that she “lacks sufficient property including the spouse’s separate property, on dissolution of the marriage to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs” among other elements. Please refer to Texas Family Code Chapter 8 for the entire law which contains other elements and factors not addressed here.
Flushing out what “lacking sufficient property” actually means is difficult. Case law demonstrates that Courts look to a variety of factors including, the community property award in the divorce and the spouses education, separate property, health, employment experience and business opportunities. There is no formula such as monthly expenses are $3,000 therefor the spouse is awarded $3,000. It’s much broader than that.
The practical application of this law makes spousal maintenance quite difficult to obtain. One, the ex-spouse may not have sufficient income to pay what is needed for the spouse to get by and two, minimum reasonable needs are typically shelter and food, not mani/pedis. Much to the disappointment of many women, the standard is not to keep the divorced spouse’s lifestyle the same as her married lifestyle.
A common example would be a spouse married to a hard working executive who chooses to stay home because it’s hard enough on the family that one parent is gone all the time. The hard working executive works too hard and picks up a nasty addiction to alcohol. The alcohol abuse leads to the couple’s cash reserves being used up for rehab, disability, therapy and suddenly, when the alcoholism finally destroys the relationship, the money is gone. Now, homemaking spouse is unemployed with a ton of bills and the hard working spouse is no longer employed at the rate he was. Her best asset is now her resilience, from which she has to dig deep to find and use to fuel moving on.
On the flip side but on the same side of the coin, had the homemaking spouse stayed employed, she would at least have somewhere to start. Any place other than unemployed and broke is better than that. True, a spouse with some employment opportunity would be less eligible for spousal maintenance but at least she would have a paycheck rather than being subject to the court’s wide-ranging discretion. It can take months before spousal maintenance is ordered by the court and actually paid by the spouse. A judge can only enter orders and enforce them. She cannot babysit the parties to make sure it gets done. And can you hear the “cha-ching”? Every time a lawyer has to go back to court for something, it costs.
2. That they kept documents.
The way assets and debts are awarded in divorce requires some level of proof as to the asset or debt’s status. How do you prove you used your inheritance to buy the house if you don’t have any records? How do you show that you funded your 401(k) for years prior to marriage? How much cash does a spouse earn under the table? How many credit cards and lines of credit are out there? The dining furniture was a gift to both of you right?
Keeping original documents regarding important transactions are important for many reasons, too many of which to cover in this article. I will discuss two. One, having documents is important to show when property or debt is separate since the law presumes all property and debt owned by either party belongs to the community. In order to overcome that presumption, a party must submit proof that a particular asset or debt is separate property. Separate property is acquired before marriage, by gift or by inheritance. Proof is usually in the form of bank accounts, check stubs, contracts, paychecks, letters, titles and so forth. Who keeps up with that stuff? Not everyone, but the divorced spouse wishes she had.
Secondly, keeping original documents is important to show the current status of income, debt and other property rights. For example, wife swears husband got a $50,000 bonus and bought a sports car for his girlfriend in her name with the cash. This stuff happens people. I know you know it does. Continuing on, the company that bonused him is now out of business and the $300 an hour lawyer can’t subpoena documents to prove the bonus ever existed. This leads to another topic for another day. Stay involved in the finances. This scenario can be a huge waste of time and money for everyone to prove either the existence of a lie or to disprove a wild allegation impossible to disprove because it never happened.