Alimony, Palimony, and Spousal Support in Texas

Family support during and after divorce

Parents Spouses fighting over money

In Texas, “Alimony”  is unconstitutional, which is why you will find little or no information if you have googled “alimony in Texas”.   Historically, the reason is that we are a community property state.  The longer you are married, the more property you get and that is more fair than alimony or palimony.

However, the Texas Legislature has long ago recognized that our society has changed and over two decades ago, passed a laws which have been amended a couple times, establishing “Post Divorce Maintenance”.  Post divorce maintenance is different than “Temporary Spousal Maintenance” sometimes called “Temporary Support”.  Post divorce maintenance is similar to alimony – we just don’t call it that.  Temporary support is support paid by one spouse to the other as a means of dividing the community income while the divorce is pending   how much are the bills, what is the income, who will pay what, are there kids, child support, medical needs, educational needs, etc.  All of this goes into the equation to determine what is most fair and equitable.  Again, this is only during the pendency of the divorce, so it is really intended to be a short term stop gap.

Alimony (paid to wife), Palimony (paid to husband) or post-divorce Spousal Maintenance is money paid by one spouse to the other after the divorce and it is available in extremely limited circumstances and limited duration.   A spouse can be awarded alimony/maintenance under the Texas Family Code only if one of two specific conditions exists.

The first is if the other spouse was convicted of a crime involving family violence within the two years prior to the filing of the divorce suit.  This includes class C misdemeanor convictions if the allegation involved family violence.  It also includes occasions where the defendant received deferred adjudication in exchange for a plea of guilty.  The other starts with a 10-year marriage, where the spouse seeking maintenance lacks sufficient property (including property awarded in the divorce) to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs.  If that factor exists, then, the inquiry turns to whether the spouse can or cannot work outside the home because he/she has an incapacitating personal physical or mental disability; or, he/she is the primary caregiver of a child requiring substantial care due to a physical or mental disability; or the spouse clearly lacks adequate skills to find a job to support minimum reasonable needs.

I like to describe the process in terms of a Girl Scout selling cookies- In order to sell cookies the Scout must ask the person inside the home if he or she wants cookies and depending on circumstances, the Scout may have to promote the brand or convince the client to buy cookies.  But, before she can even approach the door and ring the bell to see if anyone is home, the Scout must get through the gate to the yard.  If the marriage has lasted 10 years or more, the gate is unlocked, but if the marriage is for less than 10 years it is locked.  To unlock it, the Scout has to acquire a key.  In the divorce context, the gate key is spousal abuse.  If the party seeking post divorce maintenance has been abused he/she has a key to the gate and can approach the house to ring the doorbell and ask the Judge if he or she will award post divorce spousal support.  Likewise, if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years, the gate is unlocked and the spouse can ask.

However, asking and getting are two different animals.  Think back to being a teenager.  You ask your parents for lots of things.  Some you got, others you did not.  While the Judge is not your parent, the analogy is the same.  You cannot have it unless you ask, but just because you ask does not mean you will get it.  Short of knowing exactly what triggers the Judge to award Post Divorce Support you have to explain why it is needed and why it is fair.  FYI any Scout selling cookies, my trigger is the mere mention those chocolate covered peanut butter cookies in the red box . . . just saying).

So, if you want post divorce spousal support, you have to ask but more importantly, for the request to be successful, you must be able to show why it is fair and appropriate.  There are many factors that are used to determine the reasonableness but the first is always necessity.  Do you need spousal support after the divorce?  If you don’t need it, the court is not going to award it since doing so would just be punishment.  Even if you need it, the court has to consider why, how long before you don’t need it, how much do you need and what are the other spouse’s assets that can be used to pay it.  There is no specific formula like child support tables, it is dependent on you, your facts, your needs, whether or not you have the current ability to secure employment so you don’t need it, and have you made a reasonable attempt to find an appropriate job or get job training.    Even when awarded, Judges are further limited in the right to award maintenance by state law that says support can continue for no longer than necessary to provide for the spouse’s needs unless the spouse has a mental or physical disability, is caring for an infant or young child, or there is some other compelling reason the spouse cannot provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs

Furthermore, with very limited exceptions, post divorce maintenance cannot exceed a certain number of year and the monthly payment amount is limited to either $2,500 or 20 percent of the paying spouse’s average gross income – whichever amount is lower.   In the past, the length of support was capped at 3 years but relatively recent changes to the law have extended the limitation based on facts:

Duration Cap for Court Ordered Spousal Maintenance
Family Violence Less than 10 years No more than 5 years
Married 10+ years Betwee 10 and 20 years No more than 5 years
Married 10+ years Between 20 and 30 years No more than 7 years
Married 10+ years 30 years or more No more than 10 years
Disabled spouse N/A As long as spouse is eligible
Disabled child of marriage N/A As long as spouse is eligible

Although the legislature extended the limitation from 3 years to 5, 7, or even 10 depending on facts, there remains the over-arching limitation that the Court should award support for the least time necessary for the spouse to be able to meet his/her own needs through employment.

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