There is some good news for people going through a divorce and in need of alimony and spousal support in Texas. While other jurisdictions may consider alimony and spousal support to be synonymous terms, that is not the case in the Lone Star State. Instead, Texas courts prefer the phrase “spousal maintenance.”
For generations, Texas was one of the most difficult states in the country in which to qualify for such support. Relatively brief marriages – less than 10 years – usually did not meet the criteria for any type of spousal maintenance. While Texas still lags behind most states when it comes to spousal maintenance, a law established in 2012 does somewhat improve the situation when it comes to spouses in need of support to meet basic needs. Here is the information you need to know about spousal maintenance in Texas.
Understanding the Basics: Texas Is a Community Property State
In other states, legal separation usually precedes divorce. This is not the case in Texas. No matter how long a couple has lived apart, they are legally married until the divorce decree is final. As a community property state, all of the property – and debt – acquired during the marriage belongs to both people, regardless of titling. This plays a role in the way spousal maintenance is determined by the court.
In What Circumstances Will the Court Decide to Enact Spousal Support?
Spousal maintenance is enacted on a case-by-case basis. Typically, the following circumstances are used to demonstrate a need to award spousal maintenance:
- The spouse whom spousal support is being sought from has been convicted or received deferred adjudication for a crime involving family violence against the other spouse or their child within two years of the divorce being filed, or while the divorce is pending. In this case, the duration of the marriage is considered irrelevant.
- The marriage has lasted longer than 10 years and the spouse who is seeking spousal maintenance does not have the property or income to handle their basic needs. They must also be able to prove the following applies to them:
- They are disabled
- They are the primary caretaker of a disabled child
- They lack the earning capability to provide for their minimum basic needs
- Both parties agree that spousal maintenance is needed and should be payable for a certain period of time.
- If one spouse sponsored an immigrant, he or she could enforce the Affidavit of Support to be executed by the other spouse and request that the Court order the sponsor to provide the immigrant spouse 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines until the immigrant spouse becomes a U.S. citizen or until he or she has earned 40 credits of work history.
Determining Spousal Support in Texas
Under Texas State Law, various factors come into play when determining spousal support. These include the following circumstances affecting the spouse requesting support:
- Personal Financial Resources
- Employment History
- Contribution to the Other Spouse’s Education
- Homemaker History
- Property Brought to the Marriage
- Health – Both Physical and Mental
Other factors that may affect a court’s decision regarding spousal support include whether adultery was involved on the part of either spouse or if there was a history of domestic violence in the marriage.
How Does the Court Determine How Much Spousal Maintenance Is Needed?
Texas State Law does not provide a solid formula to determine how much spousal support must be paid or awarded. However, the maximum amount of support that a court may grant the recipient spouse is $5,000 a month, and even that number cannot exceed 20% of the paying spouse’s income.
Important Note: Spousal support payments are considered taxable income to the individual receiving support and deductible for the individual paying the support.
How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last?
Prior to 2012, spousal maintenance payments were limited to just three years. Now, the court may permit maintenance for up to 5 years in a marriage that has lasted over 10 years but less than 20 years. This increases to 7 years if the marriage has lasted more than 20 years but less than 30 years. Spousal maintenance may be paid up to 10 years if the marriage has lasted more than 30 years.
Other considerations for the duration can be based on spousal disability or if there is a history of family violence.
How Do I Receive Spousal Maintenance Payments?
Once spousal maintenance is awarded, the court will give an order to the other spouse’s employer to withhold a certain amount of money and remit it to the spouse that has been awarded maintenance.
A spousal maintenance order can be enforced in several ways:
- Filing a motion to enforce (this can include a motion for contempt)
- Ask the court to reduce the amount owed to a money judgment
- Get a qualified domestic relations order, also known as a QDRO (this law is new as of September 1, 2021)
What About Contractual Alimony?
Alimony does not depend on a court decision but is part of the divorcing couple’s property settlement. For the individual paying the alimony, the amount is deductible on federal taxes, while the alimony recipient must report the income on his or her tax forms.
Contact Divorce Attorney Alison Grant
The financial consequences of divorce are often devastating. Anyone going through this process needs a lawyer specializing in family law. If you are in need of an experienced divorce attorney, contact Alison Grant, Attorney at Law today!