A Quick Review of Spousal Maintenance in Texas

Spousal maintenance – also referred to as “alimony” in many jurisdictions outside of Texas – continues to be among the most controversial issues in family law. This is partly because of media influence. Some spousal maintenance cases – such as those involving celebrities – are published in the mainstream media, and sometimes the amounts of maintenance awards can be astounding to observers. Spousal maintenance won’t stop being controversial anytime soon, but the reality of maintenance is quite different from what lay people often assume. In this post, we’re going to give a quick review of spousal maintenance and how this concept works here in Texas.

Spousal Maintenance is Based on Two Basic Conditions

Not only is spousal maintenance not award in all cases, the qualifications for spousal maintenance are actually quite high in Texas. To qualify for spousal maintenance, the requesting spouse needs to meet two conditions: (1) the requesting doesn’t have the means to provide for basic needs at the time of the divorce, and (2) one of four other circumstances must be present:

(a) The provisioning spouse must have been convicted of domestic violence within two years of the divorce filing

(b) The requesting spouse has primary physical custody of the child, and the child requires special care due to physical or mental disabilities, and this special care prevents the custodial parent from being able to meet certain needs

(c) The marriage lasted for at least 10 years and the requesting spouse is not employable at the time of the divorce

(d) The requesting spouse cannot meet basic needs because of a physical or mental disability

Simply put, these conditions must be present for a spousal maintenance award to be possible. Once this threshold is met, then a Texas judge will conduct a thorough examination of the circumstances of the marriage to determine the amount and duration of the award.

The Presumption Against Maintenance in TX

One point which readers should keep in mind is that Texas has a standing presumption that spousal maintenance is not appropriate following divorce. In other words, those requesting maintenance have a bit of a hurdle to overcome right from the outset. This means that judges will tend to weigh the evidence in favor of not awarding maintenance if there may be doubt as to the relative employability of the requesting spouse, or doubt regarding other factors.

Courts Use a Complex Analysis to Award Maintenance

If the requesting spouse can show that the two conditions for spousal maintenance are present, and also shows that they have been a sincere effort to become self-supporting but still require help, then a Texas judge may award maintenance. Judges perform a complex analysis when determining the amount, duration, and payment method of awards. Every case is unique, and will be treated as such for purposes of analysis; but here are a few of the common factors which are known to be significant in the analysis:

  • Adultery, cruel treatment, or other misconduct
  • The economic contributions made to the marriage by each partner
  • Contributions made as a homemaker during the marriage
  • The overall length of the marriage
  • The ability of the provisioning spouse to pay the maintenance
  • The earning ability of each spouse
  • The age of each spouse
  • The mental and physical health of each spouse
  • The education and employability of each spouse
  • Any other relevant factors

Duration & Amount of Maintenance Awards

The State of Texas has somewhat atypical rules and guidelines when it comes to the duration and amount of spousal maintenance awards. If the maintenance is given because of a mental or physical disability of the requesting spouse, or because of issues related to childcare, then the maintenance can continue indefinitely. For awards which don’t involve some sort of permanent condition, Texas law limits the duration of awards based on how long the marriage lasted. The longest an award can last is 10 years, and this is only if the parties were married for at least 30 years.

The amount of an award cannot exceed either $5,000 per month, or 20 percent of the provisioning spouse’s monthly income, whichever is the least amount. If the provisioning spouse is paid via commission, or doesn’t have a fixed salary, then the court will take the average monthly income for award calculation purposes.

Seek More Information If You Need To

Hopefully this sheds some light on how spousal maintenance works here in Texas. This isn’t the full story, however. If you need more information, contact an experienced family law attorney.