Spousal support, also known as spousal maintenance or alimony, is paid by one ex-spouse to the other to help support the recipient. It has nothing to do with child support, and it may be paid regardless of whether there are children and what arrangements are made for them. Spousal support is largely a relic of the era when women did not work and needed money to live on following a divorce, and it is relatively rare today. However, it may be paid by either ex-spouse depending on the divorcing couple’s individual situation.
Presumption Against Spousal Support
Texas has a presumption against spousal support, which means that divorce courts assume that no support will be made unless the spouse seeking support can demonstrate that it is needed. Unless a mental or physical disability, or family violence, is involved, that spouse must also show an ongoing effort toward obtaining employment or job training that will make him or her self-sufficient.
Qualifications for Support
If the court agrees to consider spousal support, the spouse seeking support must not only show that he or she is unable to financially provide for basic needs, even after the division of property that occurs with the divorce, but also that one of the following conditions is met:
Other spouse convicted of family violence in the past two years
Physical or mental disability of the spouse seeking support that prevents gainful employment
Physical or mental disability of a child for whom the spouse seeking support has custody that is severe enough to preclude the spouse from gaining meaningful income
Marriage of ten years or longer and the spouse seeking support has continuously attempted to seek gainful employment or job training throughout the divorce process
Amount and Duration of Support
If spousal support is granted, there is no simple formula for determining either the amount or duration of support. The judge will consider what each partner invested in the marriage in terms of homemaking, contributions to each other’s education, and other intangibles, as well as the individual property that each partner brought to the marriage and the length of the marriage.
In addition, the judge will consider both spouses’ current ability to financially support their own basic needs, as well as the realistic ability of the seeking spouse to obtain education and job skills at this time. This is based on a wide range of factors including age, current educational level, health, resources, and prior employment.
Law-breaking is another important consideration. If there is a pattern of family violence, if either partner was unusually cruel to the other, or if either partner committed adultery, the spousal support award might change. The judge may also consider whether one spouse irresponsibly and excessively spent joint funds or concealed mutual property. There may not be enough evidence to bring charges, but judges tend to punish habitual miscreants while rewarding innocent spouses.
Maximum Amount and Duration of Support
Although judges have a great deal of leeway in awarding spousal support, there are limits imposed by the law. Spousal support may not exceed 20% of the supporting spouse’s income or $5,000, whichever is less. It is also time-limited by law, except when the supported spouse has a disability or has custody of a child with a disability.
Five years: If support is granted based on a history of family violence, or if the marriage lasted less than 20 years
Seven years: For marriages that lasted between 20 and 30 years
Ten years: For marriages that lasted for more than 30 years
Spousal support orders may be changed if either spouse’s financial picture substantially changes. It ends automatically if either spouse dies, or if the supported spouse remarries or enters a long-term living together relationship.
Contractual alimony, as the name suggests, is negotiated as a contract between the divorcing spouses. It is not enforceable through the courts except as a regular debt. It is most often negotiated on a short-term basis to help the receiving spouse qualify for an apartment or to assume the mortgage under his or her own name, or to seek education to improve his or her job prospects.
However, contractual alimony does not automatically end except upon the death of one spouse. If the supporting spouse wants it to end when the receiving spouse reaches a certain income level, after a specific time period, when the receiving spouse remarries, or at any other milestone, those parameters must be clearly stated in the contract.
Spousal support is not part of the majority of Texas divorces today, but it does remain available for those who qualify. Within the limits of the law, judges have a great deal of flexibility in determining the appropriate amount and duration of support. Therefore, if you are involved in a Texas divorce with spousal support on the table, it is essential to seek representation from a skilled, experienced family lawyer.
With 6 years of experience as a Harris County prosecutor and 11 years of experience representing clients in a variety of family, domestic, and criminal cases, past president of the Montgomery County Bar Association, Andrea Kolski, has the background you need to win your case. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call Nonstop Justice today at 832-381-3430.