Spousal support, spousal maintenance, and alimony are synonymous and interchangeable terms. “Spousal maintenance” is the term generally used in Texas courts, and all it means is money paid by one spouse to the other, usually on a monthly basis, after separation or divorce. Spousal support is not awarded in every case, however. To be eligible for alimony in Texas, certain qualifications must be met.
Who is entitled to spousal support?
The short answer is that it depends on the length of the marriage, the parties’ financial situation, and whether or not a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement is in place promising support payments. Texas Family Code Section 8.051 governs eligibility for spousal maintenance. Basically, it specifies that the spouse seeking alimony must not have enough of their own property and/or funds to provide for their basic needs, and he or she must also meet one of the following:
- The spouse was married to the other spouse for a minimum of 10 years, and
- The spouse does not have the ability to earn enough money to meet their minimum reasonable needs, or
- The spouse seeking support has a disability that prevents earning enough to support themselves, or
- The spouse seeking maintenance has custody of a child from the marriage and the child has substantial care and supervision needs due to a disability. Note: In such cases, the child’s disability prevents the spouse with custody from earning enough money to fulfill basic needs.
Alternatively, spousal support may be awarded if a spouse has been convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for family violence within two years of the filing of the divorce action (or during the divorce process while the suit is pending.)
How long is spousal maintenance paid in Texas?
Generally, spousal support is granted for a limited period of time. The court will determine the shortest amount of time necessary to allow the spouse in need of support to earn enough money to provide for his or her own needs. The Texas Family Code, Section 8.054, sets the maximum period of support as:
- 5 years if there was a conviction or deferred adjudication for family violence
- 5 years if the parties were married at least 10 years
- 7 years if the parties were married between at least 20 years
- 10 years if the parties were married at least 30 years
- Indefinitely if the spouse is severely disabled or caring for a disabled child
Is there a cap on spousal maintenance?
Yes. The Texas Family Code caps the amount of spousal support per month to the lesser of:
- $5,000 or
- 20 percent of the paying spouse’s gross monthly income.
What factors does the court consider in determining spousal maintenance?
Section 8.052 of the Texas Family Code establishes a list of factors that court must look at to determine the extent, duration, and type of spousal maintenance. Here are the factors:
- The ability of each spouse to provide for his or her own minimum reasonable needs and the financial resources of that spouse at the time of divorce,
- The education level and employment-related skills of both spouses, including the time required for the spouse seeking maintenance to obtain enough education and training to earn sufficient income (as well as the difficulty in obtaining this training),
- The length of the marriage,
- The age, job history, earning potential, and physical and emotional health of the spouse seeking maintenance,
- The difficulty for each spouse to pay for child support and pay for their own minimum reasonable needs,
- The actions of either spouse that led to extreme spending, concealment, fraud, or other relevant property-related losses,
- The contribution of one spouse to the other spouse’s education or training (or other effect on earning potential),
- Property either spouse contributed to the marriage,
- Contribution of the spouse who is a homemaker,
- Any misconduct related to the marriage, and
- Any act or history of domestic violence
Does Texas allow modifications of spousal support agreements after divorce?
Yes, but a court must approve the modification, which is governed by Section 8.057 of the Texas Family Code. For a modification to occur, one of the parties must file a motion in the court that initially issued the order to pay maintenance. Notice must be given according to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and a response is due on or before 10 a.m. on the first Monday that falls 20 days after you have been served with notice that the modification motion has been filed. The court then holds a hearing and can modify the existing order or a portion of the divorce decree that provided for maintenance.
It’s important to point out that a material and substantial change in circumstances affecting either party or a child of the marriage is required to modify spousal maintenance. Modification applies only to payments that accrue after the motion to modify is filed. You should know that job loss or inability to provide for minimal reasonable needs due to incapacitating mental or physical illness that begins after the divorce is not grounds for the court to order spousal maintenance for a former spouse.
So, what should you remember about Texas alimony?
You are not guaranteed spousal maintenance. If you have been married for over 10 years, if there is domestic violence in your relationship, if there is a significant wage disparity between you and your spouse, or if there is an existing marital agreement, then you may be eligible for spousal maintenance. If your soon-to-be former spouse is alleging you are owed nothing and you meet one or more of these factors, you should contact a family law attorney as soon as possible.
Do you have questions about paying alimony or getting spousal support? If so, call us at (817) 900-3220. You can also contact us online: