All too often, when I get calls from potential clients seeking a divorce, they refer to their assets in personal terms.
“That’s my car. I purchased it with my money.”
Of course, after having a bit of a discussion with the potential client, they soon learn that when it comes to marital property laws in Texas, there is rarely such a thing as “your car” or “your money”. Instead, once you’re married, nearly everything you acquire belongs to the community estate. That community estate belongs to both you and your spouse. While you may have a right to manage your earnings how you wish, you do not have a sole property right to them.
So when one person is the primary income earner for a household, they often find themselves paying for some of their spouse’s expenses while their divorce is pending. Sometimes they may even find that the court has ordered them to make cash payments to the other spouse for certain expenses, including attorney’s fees.
Without such provisions, stay at home moms (or dads) would find themselves unable to afford to file for divorce or obtain legal representation if their spouse decided to file for divorce. Sure, they would receive part of the community property at the end of the process when the marital estate is divided, but that doesn’t help them while the divorce is proceeding. Instead, this provides the spouse who otherwise would have little to no access to community funds an opportunity to make ends meet and to hire an attorney.
There is, of course, a limit to this. Courts in Texas have found that spouses are only entitled to enough temporary spousal support to meet their reasonable necessary expenses. It is not intended to maintain a particular lifestyle, no matter how accustomed to it they have become. It’s also irrelevant if the other spouse could afford to maintain that high level lifestyle. The court is going to look at all sources of income (including child support) available to the spouse seeking support, as well as the reasonable necessary expenses. If there is a shortfall, the court should only order the payment of an amount to make up the difference – nothing more, nothing less.
It is important, therefore, to hire an attorney who will scrupulously examine financial information statements submitted for hearings on such temporary orders to ensure that the expenses claimed are, in fact, reasonable and necessary. Without a critical eye, a party might include expenses that are not at all necessary, which could pose a substantial financial burden on the spouse ordered to pay support. On the other hand, unless a spouse asking for support is careful to put together a financial statement that is reasonable and fair, and includes all necessary expenses, they may find that they do not receive the full amount of support that they need in order to make ends meet.