Alimony, which Texas law refers to as spousal maintenance, can be a topic that raises concerns for someone contemplating divorce. It does not help that a lot of misinformation continues to circulate and generate misplaced panic for higher earners.
The top myth that needs dispelling is that a higher earner who divorces will have to keep giving the lower-earning ex a large chunk of his or her income, forever. This is only true if set forth in a valid prenup or divorce agreement.
Setting the terms through an agreement
Divorcing couples are free to agree to any maintenance plan they want; it does not have to comply with the statutory scheme for determining this matter. If you do not have an agreement that specifies the terms for maintenance payments, the court will address this issue in accordance with Texas law.
A spouse asking for support after the divorce must show that he or she is eligible for it. Eligibility depends on showing two things. First, the requesting spouse must show he or she will not have sufficient property to support minimal reasonable needs after the divorce. This means someone with a low income may receive enough property in the asset division process to become ineligible for later support.
Upon meeting this first requirement, the requesting spouse must also show one of the following two things:
- The higher earner was convicted or got a deferred disposition for an act of family violence committed during the marriage no more than two years prior to the divorce filing or during the divorce process; OR,
- The requesting spouse cannot earn enough income for minimal reasonable needs and was married to the high earner for 10 years or longer, or her inability to earn is due to caring for a child of the marriage with a physical or mental disability or is due to possessing a physical or mental disability.
Setting payment amounts and duration
Being eligible does not mean actually getting payments. The court will consider various factors including the length of the marriage, the conduct of the requesting spouse and the spouses' relative contributions in determining the duration and amount of payments, if any at all are awarded. In any case, courts will not award more than 10 years of maintenance.