When spouses get a divorce, it is not uncommon for Texas courts to award spousal maintenance, also known as alimony, to the financially disadvantaged spouse. Judges in family courts consider a wide range of factors when awarding spousal support after a divorce.
In many cases, a spouse may be ordered to pay alimony for years or even the rest of their or their spouse’s life. The length of the alimony award varies from one divorce case to another. If you are going through a divorce in Texas, you need to understand whether or not spousal maintenance will be awarded and how long it will last.
Consider speaking with an experienced family law attorney at the Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard to discuss your specific situation and determine when spousal support, if awarded, will end in your case.
Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our family law attorney by calling (254) 220-4225 or complete this contact form.
What Is Spousal Maintenance (Alimony) in Texas?
When a married couple files for divorce, one of the spouses may request alimony, which is commonly referred to as spousal maintenance. Alimony is designed to provide the lower-earning spouse with sufficient monetary support to allow them to enjoy a similar standard of living established during the marriage.
In most cases, the payor must pay alimony in the form of monthly payments for a specific number of years. A financially disadvantaged spouse can receive spousal support during the divorce proceedings (before the judge finalizes the divorce) and after the divorce is final.
When Do Texas Courts Order Spousal Maintenance?
Contrary to popular belief, alimony is not automatically awarded in every divorce case. Spousal maintenance can be awarded upon request and only if the spouse who requests alimony is eligible to receive alimony.
Whether or not alimony will be awarded is decided by the judge on a case-by-case basis. Since each divorce case is unique, there is no guarantee that you or your spouse will be awarded alimony in your specific situation.
Broadly speaking, there are four situations that might warrant an award of spousal support in Texas:
The spouse who would be ordered to pay alimony has received deferred adjudication or has been convicted of family violence against the spouse seeking spousal maintenance or their child. The conviction or deferred adjudication must occur within two years of the date of filing a petition for divorce or during the divorce proceedings.
The spouses have been married for ten or more years, while the spouse requesting alimony does not have sufficient financial resources, property, and income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs.
The spouses have been married for ten or more years, while the spouse seeking alimony is either disabled or a primary caretaker of a disabled child.
The parties have voluntarily reached a fair and reasonable agreement on spousal maintenance.
If you are not sure whether or not spousal maintenance could be available in your specific case, speak with a knowledgeable family lawyer to discuss your particular situation.
Factors for Determining Spousal Maintenance in Texas
In every divorce case, a family court presumes that awarding alimony would not be appropriate. The spouse who requests alimony has the burden to prove that they are entitled to spousal support following their divorce.
The spouse requesting alimony will need to demonstrate sufficient evidence proving that they are the dependent spouse. Under Texas Family Code § 8.053, the requesting spouse must also prove that they lack financial resources and cannot earn sufficient income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs.
Once the family court receives your request for spousal maintenance, it will consider a number of factors to determine the appropriate amount and duration of alimony. These factors include:
The duration of the marriage
Each spouse’s financial resources and property
Each spouse’s ability to provide for their reasonable needs
Each spouse’s age and physical condition
Each spouse’s education and earning capacity
Each spouse’s employment history
Each spouse’s personal property
The contributions of each spouse
The allegations of wasteful dissipation of marital assets
The allegations of marital misconduct, including adultery
Any history of family violence
The factors for determining spousal maintenance are outlined in Texas Family Code § 8.052.
What Is the Duration of Spousal Maintenance in Texas?
Judges must follow guidelines imposed by the Texas Family Code when determining the duration of an alimony award in divorce cases. The duration of spousal maintenance depends on the requesting spouse’s reason for seeking alimony.
If spousal maintenance is awarded because (a) the supported spouse has a mental or physical disability or (b) the supported spouse is a custodial parent of a child of the marriage, spousal support will last as long as the condition exists. A court may review the support order periodically to decide if alimony is still appropriate pursuant to Texas Family Code § 8.054.
For other spousal maintenance orders, the supported spouse can receive alimony payments for up to:
Five years if the marriage lasted less than ten years and the payor was convicted of domestic violence;
Five years if the marriage lasted from 10 to 20 years;
Seven years if the duration of the marriage exceeds 20 years but less than 30 years; or
Ten years if the marriage lasted 30 or more years.
Unless the requesting spouse is seeking alimony on the basis of a physical or mental disability or another compelling reason, judges will opt for the shortest period of time necessary for the requesting spouse to become self-supporting.
When Does Alimony End in Texas?
Spousal maintenance ends before the termination date specified in the order if any of the following happens:
Either spouse dies
The spouse who receives alimony remarries
The spouse who receives alimony cohabitates with an individual in a dating/romantic relationship
The court determines that alimony award is no longer appropriate under the current circumstances
Under Texas law, spouses can petition the court to modify the alimony order if there has been a substantial change in circumstances.
What Is the Maximum Amount of Spousal Maintenance in Texas?
Texas law also imposes limits on the maximum amount of spousal support after divorces. Unless the parties reach an agreement without the court’s involvement, the amount of monthly alimony ordered by the judge cannot exceed $5,000 or 20% of the payor’s average monthly gross income, whichever amount is lower (Texas Family Code § 8.055).
For the purposes of calculating an appropriate alimony award, the supporting spouse’s gross income includes:
Their wages and salary income
Other types of compensation, including bonuses, overtime, and commissions
Dividends and interest
Net rental income (rental payments after the deductions of mortgage payments and operating expenses)
Other sources of income, including annuities, unemployment benefits, retirement benefits, gifts, and others.
If you do not agree with the ordered amount of alimony, consult with an attorney to determine if you can decrease or terminate spousal support by filing a modification request.
Is Spousal Maintenance Available in Common Law Marriages?
Texas is one of the few states that recognize common-law marriages. If marriage was established by common law, one spouse might still be able to request alimony. The same can be said about marriages that are void because either spouse’s previous marriage has not been dissolved.
A putative spouse is a spouse who entered into a marriage in good faith and did not know that the other spouse did not dissolve their previous marriage or there was another condition that made their current marriage voidable.
In Texas, a putative spouse can seek spousal maintenance even if their marriage is declared void. However, obtaining alimony when your marriage is void can be more challenging and may require the assistance of a skilled family law attorney.
How Can a Spouse Receive Alimony Payments in Texas?
There are different ways to pay and receive spousal maintenance payments in Texas. Usually, the court awards alimony in the form of monthly payments. Alternatively, the payor may pay spousal maintenance in a lump sum payment that must equal the total amount of all monthly payments ordered by the judge.
If the supporting spouse fails or refuses to make monthly payments, the supported spouse can enforce the alimony order.
When Will Spousal Support Be Terminated After a Texas Divorce?
The duration of spousal support (maintenance) depends on the duration of the marriage and other factors. In most cases, alimony will terminate within:
Five years if (a) the marriage lasted ten years and the supporting spouse received deferred adjudication or conviction for domestic violence or (b) the marriage lasted from 10 to 20 years;
Seven years if the marriage lasted between 20 and 30 years; or
Ten years if the marriage lasted over 30 years.
For the purposes of determining spousal maintenance in Texas, the duration of the marriage runs from the date of the marriage to the date when the divorce was finalized. Many people mistakenly believe that their marriage must last ten years before the date divorce papers were filed in order to be eligible for spousal maintenance.
An alimony award does not have a termination date if the supported spouse:
has a disability;
is caring for a disabled child;
is a custodial parent of the child of the marriage; or
has another compelling impediment to supporting themselves with sufficient income.
If any of the above-mentioned conditions are true, the supporting spouse will pay spousal maintenance for as long as the condition exists.
What to Do If You Cannot Pay the Ordered Alimony Amount?
Before granting a spouse’s request for alimony, the judge will consider a variety of factors, including the other spouse’s financial ability to pay spousal maintenance. If the spouse from whom spousal support is sought does not have the financial ability to pay the ordered amount, the judge will not award alimony to the requesting spouse.
As an alternative to awarding alimony, the judge may award a disproportionate share of community property in favor of the financially disadvantaged spouse. However, if you were ordered to pay spousal maintenance and you lost your job or otherwise can no longer continue to make alimony payments to the supported spouse, consider speaking with a lawyer to determine whether or not you can seek a modification of the alimony order.
How to Modify a Spousal Maintenance Order in Texas?
Texas law allows spouses to request a modification of the spousal maintenance order when certain requirements are met. A spouse has the right to file a modification request to reduce or terminate the alimony obligations. However, the requesting spouse must demonstrate sufficient evidence to prove that the modification of the alimony order is justifiable.
Under Texas Family Code § 8.057, the spouse seeking a modification must prove a material and substantial change in circumstances for the judge to grant their request. Alternatively, a modification to the alimony award will be granted when both former spouses mutually agree to the proposed change.
In order to successfully modify your spousal maintenance order in Texas, you must prove that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. When seeking to decrease or terminate spousal support, any of the following would qualify as a substantial or material change in circumstances:
Loss of a job
Decrease in salary
Significant job promotion of the supported spouse
The supported spouse’s remarriage or cohabitation
However, if the change in circumstances is temporary or involuntary, you may not be able to modify your spousal maintenance order in Texas. Thus, if you intentionally quit your job or voluntarily take a pay cut to avoid paying spousal support, your modification request will most likely be rejected. In addition, you might face penalties for refusing to pay alimony.
Contact a Family Law Attorney at the Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard
If you need help understanding Texas laws about spousal maintenance, do not hesitate to speak with our knowledgeable attorney at the Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard. Our skilled family law attorney will review your particular situation and determine if alimony could be awarded in your divorce case. We also assist clients in requests for alimony modifications.
Get a free case evaluation with our trusted and results-driven attorney at the Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard by calling (254) 220-4225 or complete our contact form.