The laws surrounding alimony, or spousal maintenance, are much stricter in Texas than in other states. It is not automatically awarded during divorce proceedings. A spouse must file a petition with the court, as well as meet certain qualifications before the court will move forward with the request. If you are considering petitioning for spousal maintenance, here are some things you should know.
The purpose of spousal maintenance in Texas is to insure financial fairness and stability during and after the divorce. There are three types of support-contractual alimony, temporary spousal support, and spousal maintenance.
- Contractual Alimony – In Contractual Alimony, both spouses mutually agree on a plan for financial support during a divorce. They decide together such things as how much spousal support is paid and for how long. Although this type of support may be drawn up outside of court, it must still be approved by the court in order to be included in the final divorce decree. It must be noted that this is, as the title says, a contract, and the court doesn't have the same authority when it comes to enforcing it. If the paying spouse stops making the agreed upon payments, the court cannot hold him or her in contempt, and the receiving spouse might have to turn to civil claims court for help.
- Temporary Spousal Support – Temporary Spousal Support is only paid during a set period of time during the divorce proceedings and ends when the court feels the spouse receiving the payments has had sufficient time to find a way to support him or herself financially. In order to receive this payment, the spouse must file a Motion for Temporary Orders, but the court will only award it if it is deemed fair and necessary.
- Spousal Maintenance – Spousal Maintenance is court-ordered in Texas. After considering several factors, the court will determine how much support a spouse will receive and how long the support will last. There are limits in Texas as to the amount of spousal maintenance. No matter what the paying spouse's income is, support can never exceed $5000 per month or 20% of his or her monthly income, whichever is smaller. These limits are related to the way property is divided during a divorce in Texas. As a community property state, all marital property is divided as close to 50/50 as possible. In theory, these limitations help make up the difference in earning potential between spouses. The goal in Texas is to encourage spouses to become independent and not rely on spousal maintenance for his or her sole support.
In order to receive spousal support in Texas, the requesting spouse must show that, even after the division of property from the divorce is complete, he or she is still unable to obtain basic needs. In order to prove this, they must show one of the following:
- The spouse seeking support is unable to provide his or her basic needs due to a disability
- The marriage lasted 10 years, and the spouse seeking support is unable to provide for his or her minimum needs. The spouse seeking support must also show that he or she has attempted to earn income or obtain skills in order to be self-supporting during the divorce process
- The spouse seeking support has custody of a child of the marriage who needs substantial care and supervision due to a disability that prevents him or her from earning enough to meet their reasonable needs
Before awarding any spousal support, the court will consider many factors, including:
- Age, health, and earning ability
- Each spouse's financial resources after the divorce
- Each spouse's education and employment skills
- Amount of time it would take for the spouse seeking support to achieve the education or training necessary to provide minimum personal needs
- If one of the spouses was a homemaker during the marriage
- Whether or not one spouse contributed significantly to the earning power through education or training of the other
- If there was family violence
In most cases, spousal support payments cannot exceed 10 years. The exact limit is based on the length of the marriage.
- Marriages lasting less than 10 years do not qualify for any support
- A marriage of 10-20 years is awarded support for no more than 5 years
- A marriage of 20-30 years is awarded support for no more than 7 years
- A marriage of more than 30 years is awarded no more than 10 years
Spousal support is never guaranteed in Texas. Judges have discretion whether to order it at all. Spousal maintenance in Texas is strict, and it can be confusing, but with a little research and preparation, and the help of an experienced lawyer, you may be able to get the financial help you need and deserve in order to begin your new life with great possibilities ahead.