FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2013-02-15
A divorcing spouse in need of ongoing financial support from his or her ex may have to fight for it in Texas. Surprisingly, as recently as 1995, Texas was the last of all the states to enact an alimony statute — a relatively narrow and restrictive one at that — as compared with some other states’ provisions.
Support payments from one former spouse to the other are called “alimony” under Texas law, and are also referred to as “spousal maintenance” or “spousal support.” Texas statute defines alimony as periodic support payments from one ex-spouse to the other out of the “future income” of the obligor (paying spouse).
Upon divorce, the separating couple may be able to negotiate an alimony arrangement. In Texas, this is considered a personal contract between them.
If the parties cannot negotiate alimony, the court will apply Texas law to determine whether to order it.
Broadly, in Texas alimony is viewed as a temporary bridging arrangement to provide financially for a divorcing spouse until the obligee (recipient) can become economically self-sufficient.
Minimum reasonable needs
First, court-ordered alimony is not allowed in Texas if both spouses have sufficient means after property has been divided in their divorce to provide for their own “minimum reasonable needs.” If a spouse cannot meet his or her minimal needs, one of the following conditions must also be true:
- The obligor was convicted of a crime of family violence toward the other spouse or the other spouse’s child either while the divorce was pending or within two years before it was filed.
- The obligee can’t earn enough to meet minimal needs because of an “incapacitating physical or mental disability.”
- The obligee can’t earn enough to meet minimal needs and the marriage lasted at least 10 years. Under this category, Texas law presumes a 10-year marriage in and of itself is not enough to justify alimony; the requesting spouse must also show that while the couple has been separated he or she has “exercised diligence” in trying to earn enough money to provide for minimal needs or in “developing the necessary skills” to do so.
- The obligee can’t earn enough to meet minimal needs because he or she is responsible for a child of the marriage “who requires substantial care and personal supervision because of a physical or mental disability.”
Once the judge determines that alimony is proper, he or she must consider “all relevant factors” in setting the payment parameters, including amount and duration.
The law sets out 11 specific things the court must weigh, including whether each can minimally care for him or herself; ability to work or get vocational training; how long they were married; age, employment history, earning capacity, physical and emotional health; other support payments; whether one helped the other with education or career during the marriage; individual property from before marriage; and homemaker contributions.
Three enumerated factors require the court to look at past harmful behavior: excessively or fraudulently disposing of or hiding joint property, domestic violence and “marital misconduct, including adultery and cruel treatment.” Interestingly, not all states consider marital misconduct relevant to the question of alimony.
Texas limits the amount of a monthly payment to the lesser of $5,000 or one-fifth of the obligor’s average monthly gross income. For someone of wealth, this may not be significant and under another state’s laws that wealth may have supported a much higher payment.
Texas has detailed lists of what is and is not counted toward the paying spouse’s income; workers’ compensation, Social Security and veterans’ benefits are among the types that do not count as income in the alimony equation.
The only condition under which alimony may go on indefinitely is when the receiving spouse is eligible either because of his or her own disabling condition or because of the responsibility to care for a child of the marriage with disabilities, and those conditions must continue to exist.
Otherwise, the statute sets out particular lengths of time (five, seven or 10 years) depending on the length of the marriage and whether recent domestic violence occurred.
In any event, alimony stops when either ex-spouse dies, or when the obligee remarries or continuously lives with another person in a romantic relationship.
This is only an introduction to Texas alimony law. Anyone facing divorce and alimony issues should consult with an experienced family law attorney for education, counsel and guidance.