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Husband fights spouse's claims for more alimony and property

The case of the wealthy spouse who has built up a spectacularly lucrative business and the relatively unskilled spouse who stayed home to raise a family and provide a home life is one that can raise problematic issues in family law proceedings. Where there is a prenuptial agreement, it should significantly simplify and reduce the claims of the needier spouse. In a divorce case in Texas, the right of a spouse to obtain spousal maintenance, also called alimony, is relatively limited and does not generally extend beyond three years from the date of the divorce.

A divorce matter involving these general facts in another jurisdiction is instructive regarding some of the issues that can arise in cases involving couples in the upper middle to higher income categories. The defendant is Richard Stephenson, a multi-millionaire who is the founder of Cancer Centers of America. The plaintiff is Alicia Stephenson, his spouse of 15 years until the separation in 2007.

The case was filed in 2008, and because the parties have failed to settle in that time, the trial on alimony and property division has recently commenced, even though the parties are already divorced. Alicia is trying to show that she played an active part in helping with the businesses during the marriage. Richard is arguing that her role was social.

Although there is a prenuptial agreement, Alicia's assistance to Richard in building up the business could be an exception to it. This could open to her claims for higher maintenance and for property division not currently allowed by the prenuptial. In addition, she has been receiving about $65,000 per month in temporary maintenance payments, which could continue after the divorce.

Under Texas law, the right to continue maintenance has a maximum term of three years from the divorce. The above prenuptial has a provision allowing a claim for alimony if the marriage lasts at least seven years, which it did. Each prenuptial is highly specific to the couple's premarital negotiations, and may contain more or fewer concessions in favor of the needier spouse, depending on the bargained for terms.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Ex-wife in divorce trial says she had active role in husband's business", Amanda Marrazzo, Jan. 19, 2017

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