How to Change Contractual Alimony

First, make sure the clause you are looking to change is contractual alimony and not spousal support. You can get an idea by looking at my post here.

If it is contractual, read on!

Changing contractual alimony in Texas is not easy. It follows contract law, so typically you need the written agreement of both parties.  You need to look carefully at the terms and conditions of the payments first, and see if there is a built in way to modify or terminate the payments.  If not or the terms do not apply, you are going to need to talk to the ex-spouse.

Why would an ex-spouse agree to change the spousal payments?  Sometimes out of the goodness of their hearts… or perhaps you offer them something of value – some ideas:

  1. More money over a longer period of time so that the payments are smaller;
  2. Less money but in a lump sum payment;
  3. Other property can be used as well; or
  4. An offer to pay off debts incurred jointly or by the other party during the marriage.

We have also seen other consideration given, like the addition/modification of a geographic residency requirement or exchange points.  In the end, the deal is up to the parties, with very few exceptions.

Another method would be to attack it as you would a contract.  This is much more involved, and more difficult.

If you have a question or want advise about a particular situation, email or call – we can help!

Standard Possession Order for 2013

Since we started a new year, I thought the most useful thing to do was post a link to a standard visitation calendar for 2013.

Click OAG’s 2013 SPO Calendar

Of course, the above calendar won’t take into account all of the summer visitation or school holidays – you will have to spend some time doing that.  Here is a good website to help.

Last, click here for a more in-depth discussion of the Texas Standard Possession Order.

Wage Withholding for Contractual Alimony – No longer!

A Texas Court of Appeals held that a wage withholding order cannot be used to collect contractual alimony.  This adds yet another difference between court-ordered spousal maintenance and contractual alimony for both clients and lawyers to know about and discuss.

The full opinion can be found here.

The most interesting part is that this invalidates Texas Family Code §8.101(b) to the extent it authorized wage-withholding for contractual alimony.  The basis?  Unconstitutional under Texas Constitution Article XVI, §28, which states that current wages for personal service are not subject to garnishment, except for the enforcement of court-ordered child support or spousal maintenance!

What is the Standard Possession Order in Texas?

A Standard Possession Order, or SPO, is the visitation schedule of a non-custodial parent described in Texas Family Code Title 5, Subchapter F (153.3101 – 153.317).  The actual statute can be found here.  There is a rebuttable presumption that this schedule is in the best interest of the child (Tex. Fam. Code 153.252).  However, there is arguably a different standard (or no standard) for a child under three, if you look at Texas Family Code 153.254.  That will have to be addressed in a different post.

One easy way to explain the SPO is that the non-custodial parent will have the first, third and fifth weekends of every month, plus some additional holiday time and possession in the summer and Thursdays from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.  Non-custodial parents should make sure to understand that when there is a fifth weekend of the month, they will have the following weekend as well, since the following weekend will be the first weekend of the next month.  This commonly causes confusion as many parents seem to believe they get “every other weekend.”  If you have an SPO, that is not true, and you may miss out on time with your child.  For ease of use, I found a calendar for 2012 as an example on the website of the Attorney General (AG Calendar) and another on an Austin Mediation website (AM website).

Keep in mind that the SPO addresses visitation for under 100 miles and over 100 miles.  Over 100 miles gives the non-custodial parents the option to pick a weekend per month instead of the 1/3/5 schedule as well as additional time in the summer and all spring breaks.

Also, sometimes you hear reference to an Expanded SPO.  Normally when that term is used, it refers to an SPO where the non-custodial parent has chosen to exercise the option under 153.317 to change pick-up or drop-off times to get more time with their child.  When pick-up times are changed, it is normally changed from 6:00 PM to the time school is released and drop-off is normally changed from 8:00 PM to the time school resumes the next day.  This allows the non-custodial parent take an additional over night (Thursday or Sunday) or have additional time between when school would be dismissed and 6:00 PM, the standard pick-up time.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.  This is a brief overview and does not address every situation, school holidays, or general terms and conditions, for example.  Hopefully this DOES make the SPO a little more clear!

Answers

Pro Se litigants, which simply means people representing themselves, need to take care and make sure to file an answer.  Without an answer on file after a party is served, the opposing party can enter a Default Judgment, getting everything that they want without notice to the pro se litigant.  Almost every family law case involves children or assets that make it worth to at least be a part of the process.  Filing that answer makes sure a litigant is noticed of hearing and gets to participate.

What constitutes an answer is given a lot of leeway.  “A defendant, who timely files a pro se answer by a signed letter that identifies the parties, the case, and the defendant’s current address, has sufficiently appeared by answer and deserves notice of any subsequent proceedings in the case.” Smith v. Lippmann, 826 S,W, 2d 137, 138 (Tex. 1992).

An example of just how much leeway this gives is evidenced by the appellate decision in Beard v. Uriostegui.  Here, the Father filed to modify custody of one of the children, giving himself the right to designate the residence of the oldest child.  Mother was served and sent in a letter to the Court, stating she was not going to contest the change, but wanted the Court to take into consideration certain financial matters, including the fact the Father had failed to support the children under the prior order.

The District Court granted a default judgment against Mother.  She appealed and the Appellate Court reversed the decision, stating that the letter, based upon Smith v. Lippmann, constituted an answer and that Mother wanted to present evidence on the child support issue.  This allowed her to challenge the child support findings and hopefully she will hire an attorney to address the past due child support.

Overall, use the free consultations many attorneys offer.  At least you will have a better idea of what is at stake, the process, and if filing an answer is worth it.