September 1, 2013 marked the date for changes to the Texas spousal maintenance statutes. Specifically, the Texas Legislature clarified a Court’s ability to enforce by contempt a person’s violation of payment of Chapter 8 spousal maintenance.

§8.059 of the Texas Family Code states that the Court may not enforce by contempt any provision of an agreed order for Chapter 8 spousal maintenance that exceeds the amount of period support the Court could have ordered. Currently, the law for the maximum amount for spousal maintenance is as follows:

§8.055 states: “A court may not order maintenance that requires an obligor to pay monthly more than the lesser of:

(1) $5,000.00; or

(2) 20 percent of the spouse’s average monthly gross income."

When negotiating an Agreed Final Decree of Divorce, one spouse may agree to pay the other spouse spousal maintenance pursuant to Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code. What §8.059 did was clarify a court’s ability to hold a person in contempt of court for their failure to pay Chapter 8 Spousal Maintenance.

Example: Bob and Mary Smith were married for twelve years at the time they divorced. Pursuant to their Agreed Final Decree of Divorce, Bob is to pay Mary $6,000.00 per month for a period of six years pursuant to Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code. One year after the divorce, Bob no longer pays Mary the $6,000.00 per month he was ordered to pay. After three months of no spousal maintenance payments from Bob, Mary brings an enforcement action of the Agreed Final Decree of Divorce against Bob. Mary requests the court to enforce by contempt Bob’s failure to pay her the monthly spousal maintenance payments of $6,000.00. Under the new statue, the court can only hold Bob in contempt of court for his failure to pay spousal maintenance in the amount of $5,000.00 for each of the three months. The maximum amount the court could have ordered Bob to pay in spousal maintenance is $5,000.00 and therefore, the court can only enforce by contempt the $5,000.00 monthly amount, not the full $6,000.00 monthly amount contained in the Agreed Final Decree of Divorce.
 

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.