While some Texas divorces can be particularly difficult to work through, they often elevate to another level of contentiousness when questions of spousal maintenance are involved. After all, awards of spousal maintenance - commonly referred to as alimony in Texas - are significant financial obligations, which can continue for several years after divorce.
Essentially, the purpose of alimony is to provide rehabilitative and temporary support for spouses who are unable to financially care for themselves following divorce because of challenging conditions, such as a lack of sufficient funds or marketable skills. Specifically, those unable to provide for their minimum reasonable needs due to insufficient assets or property will be eligible for spousal maintenance under Texas divorce law in four distinct circumstances, which include:
- The individual seeking alimony cannot provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs because of an "incapacitating physical or mental disability"
- The individual seeking alimony has been married to his or her spouse for at least 10 years and simply lacks the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs
- The individual seeking alimony is the custodial parent of a disabled child, whose care and supervision prevents the individual from earning enough income to provide for his or her personal minimum reasonable needs
- The spouse of the individual seeking alimony was convicted of a crime of family violence during the divorce proceedings or within two years before the divorce petition was filed
Interestingly, while Texas is a no-fault divorce state - meaning an individual can file for divorce without first having to show grounds - that does not mean that the actions of the divorcing spouses will not be taking into account when the court determines alimony payments. In fact, Texas law expressly provides that a court can consider marital misconduct by either spouse when establishing possible alimony payments, including "adultery and cruel treatment" - although this is only one of many factors that courts can use when setting alimony amounts. However, in no case can alimony payments in Texas be more than the lesser of either $5,000 or 20 percent of the monthly income of the spouse required to make the payments.
Importantly, alimony payments can last for up to five years if the individuals were married for at least 10 years, or if the spouse making the payments was convicted of a crime of family violence. Although, alimony obligations can increase to seven years if the individuals were married for at least 20 years, and further increase to 10 years if they were married for at least 30 years. However, the court can order alimony payments indefinitely if the recipient satisfies certain conditions, such as a physical or mental disability. Nevertheless, alimony payment obligations automatically cease upon the death of either ex-spouse or if the recipient gets remarried. In addition, a court may order the termination of alimony payments if it finds that the recipient is cohabitating with someone that he or she shares a romantic relationship with.
Legal assistance is available
Given the complexities of alimony law in Texas, this article is barely able to scratch the surface of what divorcing couples need to know. Accordingly, if you are currently considering divorce and believe that spousal maintenance will be a contested issue, it is important to contact an experienced family law attorney who can thoroughly explain your rights and options.