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Texas spousal support awards can be unpredictable

According to statistics, the total amount of U.S. alimony payments made each year is roughly $9 billion. Amounts paid for spousal support, however, vary drastically from state to state and from judge to judge.

Each situation is different and every alimony case is decided based on a list of factors. These factors include:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The ages and health of the spouses
  • The financial situations of each spouse
  • The earning potential of each spouse
  • Each spouses contributions to the marriage

Judges have a lot of leeway in determining how much alimony is appropriate depending on these factors. There is currently no formula that judges or lawyers can use to estimate what to expect when it comes to alimony. This means that outcomes from divorces in which spousal support is appropriate will vary wildly and can, in many cases, appear to be inconsistent.

This unpredictability affects both spouses. A divorce settlement is certainly impacted by the fact that divorcing parties cannot be sure of how a court will decide their case. As an example, judges were asked to estimate the amount of alimony that should be awarded to a homemaker who was married to a doctor. The answers varied from $5,000 to as much as $175,000 per year.

This unpredictability can be one reason that many people may postpone filing for divorce. If a spouse is unsure of whether he or she will be able to provide for themselves after a divorce, then that spouse may be less likely to file for divorce. In the case of those who have been victims of domestic abuse, this is an especially troubling scenario.

Perhaps it is time for judges to apply a mathematical formula in the determination of spousal support. This would offer predictability to both parties, as well as prevent inappropriately large or small awards. Because a formula may not be appropriate in all situations, judges could be allowed discretion to adjust the alimony amount up or down depending upon special circumstances.

Perhaps if Texas judges were to begin with a formula and then use their discretion to ensure that alimony awards are fair, then maybe divorcing parties will face a smoother divorce process in Texas.

Source: Next, "Ending the alimony guessing game," Alexandra Harwin, 5 July 2011

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