Lack of financial resources is one of the many factors that keeps a spouse in an abusive marriage. In abusive marriages, typically the abusive spouse controls all the money in the household, earns a higher income, and may have even forced the other spouse not to work at all. Fear of having to survive without spousal support or resources keeps abuse survivors in violent relationships longer.
However, once an abusive survivor has been able to remove themselves from the relationship and files for divorce, Texas law provides certain financial protections regarding the marital property and even spousal support.
Community Property between Spouses
Texas is a community property state, meaning that any assets a spouse acquires during the marriage (e.g., real estate, income, motor vehicles, retirement) belongs to both spouses as their community property, except for assets acquired by gift or inheritance. When a spouse files for divorce, the court will make a “just and right” division of the community property. What qualifies as a just and right division will vary from each divorce case. For example, the community property is normally divided 50/50 if the parties are on an equal income level.
However, if the parties are not on an equal income level, the court will likely divide the community property in a way that gives the lower earning party more community assets. Furthermore, if a spouse has committed domestic violence or adultery, the court can award more of the community assets to the spouse who did not engage in those actions.
Spousal Support as Spousal Maintenance
Aside from the division of community property, a spouse who has been a victim of domestic violence by their partner may be awarded spousal maintenance, also known as spousal support, as well. Section 8.051 of the Texas Family Code states that a spouse who lacks sufficient property on the dissolution of the marriage to provide for their minimum reasonable needs may request spousal support if their partner has been convicted or received deferred adjudication for a criminal offense that also constitutes as an act of “family violence.” The act of violence must have been:
- committed during the marriage against the spouse or the spouse’s child and
- either within two years before the divorce case was filed or while the case is pending.
What Counts as Abuse?
The family code defines family violence as actions that result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that are threats that reasonably place the victim in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault. Unfortunately, emotional abuse is not considered to be family violence under Texas law.
A partner who is guilty of acts of family violence against their spouse or the spouse’s child and has been convicted for those acts (or received deferred adjudication) may also be forced by the court to pay the spouse spousal support. Many spouses who have suffered abuse do not file criminal charges against their partner out of fear of how the partner will react. However, if you feel you can do so safely, please file criminal charges against them. If they are convicted, you may be able to obtain spousal support from them in the divorce.
Child Support in Addition to Spousal Support
If there is a child that is a minor of the marriage, the parent who is the primary caregiver is also entitled to child support from the non-custodial parent. The court can and will order an abusive spouse to pay child support to the other spouse. Just because the abusive spouse is paying child support, that does not mean that they will have possession and access to the child. If the court finds that the abusive parent having access to the child is not in the child’s best interest, then that parent will either not be given possession rights to the child, or the parent will only be able to see the child under supervised visitation. Child support can also be paid and collected through the Attorney General’s Office, so there is no need for either spouses to meet up to exchange funds.
If you are ready to get out of an abusive marriage and need spousal support, please give us a call at 346-327-9500. We can help.