Separation agreements in Texas can be tricky because our state does not legally recognize separation. However, I understand that many couples want to protect their interests and parental rights while they remain separated – either while pursuing reconciliation or because they do not want to go through a legal divorce.
That’s why couples often create separation agreements that outline responsibilities, duties, living arrangements, financial obligations, access to certain assets, and child support/custody while living separately from each other.
The challenge is enforcing a separation agreement because it does not come with formal protections that you find in a legal divorce. I’ll unpack the obstacles that come with a separation agreement and provide information about how to enforce a separation agreement in Texas.
What Are the Challenges With a Separation Agreement in Texas?
A separation agreement is designed to be a temporary tool to help couples bridge the gap from the decision to get divorced to the actual completion of the divorce process. Because a divorce can often take months or even years to complete, couples decide to enter into an agreement that helps both parties understand and uphold their obligations during this interim period.
For example, you might not trust your separated spouse to provide financial support for the children while launching the divorce process. Then, you might want something in writing that calls for the other party to pay a certain amount in child support per month.
The challenge is that it can be difficult to enforce the terms contained in a separation agreement because Texas does not legally recognize a separation. And, there is no formal order for child support issued by a court that you would find in a finalized divorce.
In this case, you would have to prove that there is a gross abuse of the written terms or complete neglect by your separated spouse. If you can meet the burden of proof, then you could ask a court to consider enforcing the agreement by compelling your spouse to follow the terms.
– Another common challenge is that couples often use a separation agreement as a “placeholder” for divorce. They would rather not spend the time and effort to go through a divorce, they would like to retain the tax benefits, they would like to save money, or they have another motivation to remain separated but not divorced.
In this case, courts do not look favorably upon couples that enter into a separation agreement without taking any formal steps toward divorce. If you ask a court to enforce a separation agreement, the judge will want to know what action you are taking to pursue divorce. If you cannot prove that you are on the path to a legal divorce, the courts will question the validity of your separation. Then, you might not receive the outcome you are looking for.
– If you believe you can overcome these obstacles and desire to enforce a separation agreement, you will need expert legal assistance to help prove your case.
Key Points to Enforce a Separation Agreement
To enforce a separation agreement, you will need to present strong evidence and compelling arguments to the court:
- Evidence that your spouse is abusing the terms of the separation agreement.
- Proof that your children are at risk because your spouse is not acting in their best interest.
- Texts, emails, voice mails, and other communication that shows your spouse is neglecting the agreement or does not care to uphold the agreement.
- Proof that you and your spouse are moving toward a divorce.
- Alternatively, proof that you are attempting to move toward divorce, but your spouse is unwilling to participate.
– You may need to provide other evidence depending on the nature of your case. For example, perhaps you tried talking to your spouse about formally pursuing a divorce, but he or she won’t have anything to do with it. So, the best you could do was enter into a separation agreement. But now, your spouse won’t even try to meet the terms of the agreement.
In this case, you need to gather as much evidence as possible that proves that you have tried everything in your power to work with your spouse, but they continue to ignore your requests. This will help a judge see that you are putting in effort and you are actively pursuing a divorce, which will help a judge look more favorably upon your petition to enforce the separation agreement.
– If you do walk down this path of attempting to enforce a separation agreement, you will want to work with an expert lawyer who can help you gather the appropriate evidence and present your case before the court.
You may also want to consider the alternative of working with a Texas family law attorney such as myself to pursue a formal divorce.
Consider a Legal Divorce in Texas, Not a Separation
My advice to clients who are separated is to start with counseling. Use counseling to help you determine whether there is any hope for reconciliation and restoration of the marriage. If there is not, then you should consider advancing to a formal divorce.
Remaining at the “separation” stage exposes you to the risk of not being able to formally protect your rights. But, by going through a legal divorce, you can utilize the court system to issue formal decrees that will help in the following ways:
- Protect your financial assets.
- Support your parental rights if you have children through the marriage.
- Create a foundation to be able to enforce or modify a court order at a future time.
By taking this step, you will be afforded all of the legal protections afforded by Texas law concerning divorce.
I can help you advance from a separation to divorce. I currently help clients in Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, and Harris County walk through the divorce process in Texas. If you live in one of these counties, then I encourage you to reach out to my offices to review your case.
You will benefit from my expertise, passionate support for clients, and ability to present strong arguments on your behalf before the court. Let’s get started today!
Call my offices today at 281-944-5485 or 979-267-7660 to ask me questions about how to enforce a separation agreement and learn more about why you should pursue a divorce. I’m here to help you during this difficult time.