When a divorce is finalized, it is often not the end of the dispute between ex-spouses. Unfortunately, there are many cases where one spouse does not uphold their obligation to pay alimony to the other party (known as spousal support or maintenance in Texas), as outlined in the divorce suit.
Your ex-spouse may refuse to start making spousal support payments after the divorce, or they may eventually stop making payments after a period of time. No matter your situation, you can take legal steps to enforce the order for spousal support in Texas.
I’ll provide you with information on how this works so that you can work toward collecting the payments that you are legally entitled to receive.
How Does Spousal Support Work in Texas?
When the divorce was finalized, the court should have outlined the amount of spousal maintenance to be paid periodically by your ex-spouse (obligor) to you as the obligee.
The spousal support should have been based on “all relevant factors” outlined in the Texas Family Code to determine the amount, the frequency, and the manner in which the payments should be made. Some of these relevant factors include the following:
- The length of the marriage
- Your financial resources at the time of the marriage being dissolved
- Your ability to obtain work to independently provide for your needs
- Your education and employment background
- Access to assets that were previously shared during the marriage
- Childcare obligations or health expenditures for children
- Any marital misconduct, abuse, or other harmful activities during the marriage
It does not matter whether your ex-spouse agreed with how the “relevant factors” were applied during the divorce proceedings to determine the amount of payment owed to you. Once the court orders spousal support to be paid, your ex-spouse must make payments for the length of time determined by the judge.
Unfortunately, many obligors try to take matters into their own hands to justify not making payments.
Why Your Ex-Spouse May Not Be Making Payments
The Texas Family Code makes it clear how an order for spousal support is to be enforced. I’ll cover that momentarily. First, let’s look at some common reasons why your ex-spouse may be trying to circumvent the court order to make payments.
– Your ex-spouse is facing financial hardship. Divorce is a very costly process. Your ex-spouse may be trying to avoid making court-ordered maintenance payments because their assets, finances, and resources have been drained.
Texas does allow obligors to present a legal defense to modify a spousal support order under certain circumstances related to financial hardship:
- The obligor lacks the ability to provide maintenance in the amount ordered
- The obligor lacks property that can be sold to raise necessary funds
- The obligor has unsuccessfully attempted to borrow money to make payments
- The obligor could not find a source to borrow or obtain funds legally
However, your ex-spouse must go through the court to pursue a modification of the order. They cannot avoid making payments or stop making payments just because they believe they have met the requirements to pursue a modification.
– Your ex-spouse has experienced a material change in circumstances. Another means to pursue a modification of the spousal order is to prove a “material and substantial” change in circumstances.
For example, your ex-spouse may have lost their job, experienced a dramatic reduction in wages, or become responsible for other children through re-marriage. In this case, your ex-spouse can pursue a modification of how much they can be reasonably expected to pay you.
Again, though, they must go through the court to modify the original court-ordered spousal payments. They cannot decide for themselves not to make payments or to stop making payments.
– You are planning to remarry, you have remarried, or you are currently romantically involved with someone else. Your ex-spouse may have heard that you are unofficially or officially linked to someone else and decided to stop making payments. However, they cannot stop making payments until a court renders a decision.
Your ex-spouse’s responsibility to make spousal payments typically concludes if you remarry. Or, after a hearing, the court can order the termination of your ex-spouse’s maintenance payments if the court finds that you are cohabitating with another person based on a “dating or romantic relationship in a permanent place of abode on a continuing basis.”
The key for you is that the court will set the date of termination. It’s not up to your ex-spouse to decide to stop making payments. According to Texas law, your ex-spouse still owes you payment up until the termination date.
How to Enforce a Lack of Spousal Payment
Now that we have covered the reasons why your ex-spouse may be trying to avoid making maintenance payments, let’s discuss how to enforce the order for payment.
You can approach the court to enforce a violation of the maintenance order or agreement for periodic payments of spousal maintenance that the court approved.
After reviewing your case, the court can enforce the terms of the order through the enforcement means available to the court. This often includes a writ of withholding that is delivered to your ex-spouse’s employer. This order will direct the company to withhold a specified amount of earnings from your ex-spouse’s paycheck that is directed to you.
The court can also hold your ex-spouse in contempt of court, which could result in jail time or a stiff penalty depending on the severity of the lack of payments.
During this time, your ex-spouse does have the ability to present a defense for their lack of non-compliance and missed payments. They must enter an official pleading and prove their defense through a “preponderance of the evidence.”
This is why you need to work with a family law attorney. An expert in Texas family law will ensure that you present the best argument for why the order should be enforced and help defend against your ex-spouse’s claims for why they should not have to make payments.
Contact Blair Parker to Enforce a Spousal Support Order
You don’t have to go at it alone trying to convince your ex-spouse to make spousal support payments. If the situation has reached the point where you need the court to enforce the order, contact my offices immediately to find legal support.
I help people just like you in Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, and Harris County. If you live in one of these counties, call me immediately to discuss your legal rights and to find expert representation.
You can reach my offices at 281-944-5485 or 979-267-7660 to further discuss spousal support in Texas. I’m here to help you arrive at the best possible outcome for you and your family!