Alimony / Spousal Support

In Texas, “Alimony”  is unconstitutional, which is why you will find little or no information if you have googled “alimony in Texas”. However, in 1995 Texas became the last state to pass legislation regarding post divorce support. Basically, the change recognizes that our society has changed from one in which parties acquire wealth over time to a society in which parties acquire debts. In a society that builds wealth, the Texas Community Property rules are arguably the most fair system of division of proeprty. The longer you are married, the more wealth is built and at divorce, each party is compensated accordingly. In a society that acquires stuff that depreciates over time, and therefore debts, the Legislature was forced to recognize that division of property alone is not fair.

“Temporary Spousal Support” is different from “Post-Divorce Spousal Maintenance”.

Temporary Spousal Support is simply a means by which we divide the ongoing community assets during the pendency of the proceedings. To understand this you should know, income earned during the marriage is a community asset.  Accordingly, temporary support is money 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.

Post-Divorce Spousal Maintenance is a lot like “alimony” we just don’t call it that in Texas.  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 or spousal maintenance under the Texas Family Code only if one of two specific conditions exists.

fam2The 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 and the party seeking maintenance is the victim of that abuse/violence.  Abuse or violence  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.

Most alimony claims rely on the second of the conditions.  But for the request to be successful, the spouse must be able to show a reasonable attempt to find an appropriate job or get job training.  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, and no longer than reasonable and necessary to allow the spouse to begin meeting his or her own needs (presumptively not more than three years after the divorce is finalized).  The exception to this rule is when the maintenance is awarded based on a disability of either the spouse receiving maintenance or caring for a disabled child, in which case the award may be indefinite in duration.  Also, monthly payment amount is limited to either $5,000 or 20 percent of the paying spouse’s average gross income – whichever amount is lower.

Frequently asked questions about spousal support (alimony) in Texas

How long will spousal Support last?

Up to 5 years if the marriage lasted 10 years or less and spousal abuse is evident within the 2 years preceding the divorce;

Up to 5 years if the marraige lasted 10 yeas or more but less than 20 years;

Up to 7 years if the marriage lasted more than 20 years and less than 30 years;

Up to 10 years if the marriage lasted more than 30 years.

My spouse has asked or spousal support/maintenance, will she get it?

This question is so common that I liken it to Girl Scout Cookies.  You can bet you are going to be asked to buy a box, whether or not you do so is a matter of multiple factors.  For me, as long as I haven’t already bought too many and the cookie purveyor has Tagalongs in that box I am going to buy some.  But, more to the point, asking for spousal maintenance is like selling the cookies.  Think of the two provisions discussed above as the latch on the gate at the sidewalk.  If your spouse cannot meet one of the criteria, then she does not get through the gate and therefore cannot ring the doorbell.  Even if she gets through the gate, and rings the bell, the final decision is up to the Judge and based on many factors including needs, property divided, length of marriage, ability to work, education, sacrifices made by one spouse to benefit the others education, etc.