Texas spousal maintenance: what you need to know

Oftentimes, upon divorce, one spouse will end up temporarily unable to support him or herself. This doesn't mean that he or she will end up out in the proverbial cold, though. Texas state law recognizes that there is sometimes a need for one spouse to financially support the other through the divorce process and afterward. The legal name for such an arrangement: Spousal maintenance (perhaps better known as "alimony" by the average person).

If you or a loved one is going through a Texas divorce where alimony might be an issue, it helps to have a basic understanding of what it is, how it works and how awards are determined.

What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance / alimony is when one spouse pays the other spouse a set amount, either weekly, monthly or in a lump sum, for a set period while the less-wealthy spouse becomes financial independent. In Texas, unlike some other states, alimony is usually only paid during a predetermined amount of time (barring exceptional circumstances) and is not typically permanent. Having a deadline is one way to encourage the lesser-earning spouse to get the education or training necessary to become financially self-sufficient.

How is it awarded?

Texas family court judges have fairly broad discretion to award spousal maintenance if they feel it is equitable in a particular couple's situation. The Court is bound by statutory dictates, though, set forth inTexas Family Code, Title I, Chapter 8, Subchapter B.

By law, maintenance is only appropriate in those situations where one spouse, following the divorce, will have insufficient property (including the property that is distributed during the divorce proceeding) to meet his or her "minimum reasonable needs" and either has been the victim of family violence or meets one of the following criteria:

  • Is physically or mentally disabled to the point where work is impossible
  • Has been married for 10 or more years and currently doesn't have the earning capacity to be financially independent
  • Is the custodian and primary caretaker of a child with significant special physical or mental needs

How are award amounts determined?

Once the judge, after establishing that a spouse meets the statutory criteria enumerated above, determines that the spouse is eligible for spousal maintenance, he or she must then determine the amount of the payments and how long they will continue. Thankfully, the legislature has again provided guidance by setting forth a number of factors judges can consider to help them make their decision. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Each spouse's ability to provide for his or her own minimum reasonable needs
  • Education/employment history of both spouses
  • Length of the marriage
  • Presence of any minor children (and child support payments for their care)
  • Age and mental/physical health of the spouse seeking maintenance
  • Property each spouse will receive in the divorce settlement
  • Marital "misconduct" on the part of either spouse (including adultery, cruelty and violence)

Do you still have questions?

If you still have questions about Texas spousal maintenance, you are not alone. An experienced family law attorney can guide you through the process of making a claim for alimony - or contesting a request - and ensure that you put forth the best, most persuasive argument to support your position.