Most people think of alimony as court-ordered financial support that one spouse pays to their former-spouse after divorce. Under Texas law, there are a variety of spousal-support options: temporary spousal support, spousal maintenance, and contractual alimony.
Types of Spousal Support
- The first type, referred to as ‘(temporary) spousal support,’ allows a spouse to receive financial support based on the needs, expenses, and financial obligations of the parties during the pending of the divorce. One spouse pays this support to the other until the divorce is final. Sometimes, this obligation is terminated even before then, depending on the circumstances of the case.
- The second type of spousal support is spousal maintenance. This type of financial support (like the third type) allows a spouse to receive periodic payments from the former spouse’s income after finalizing the divorce. However, the difference between this and contractual alimony is that spousal maintenance is a court-ordered payment, and it is only ordered in certain circumstances.
- The third type of spousal support is contractual (agreed) alimony, and it allows both spouses to agree to payments of financial support as part of the divorce. This type of spousal support is often an appealing option for both parties who are trying to settle their divorce because it allows for more flexibility on the amount and frequency of payments. Furthermore, this option allows one spouse to have a source of monthly income for an agreed amount of time after the divorce.
Qualifying for Court Ordered Spousal Maintenance
To be eligible to receive spousal maintenance, the seeking spouse must prove that they do not have enough income and won’t receive the property necessary to meet their minimum reasonable needs. They must also meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Be married for at least ten years, and the seeking spouse must lack the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs; or
- The party from whom the seeking spouse is requesting support from has a family violence conviction; or
- The seeking spouse is unable to earn sufficient income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs because of an incapacitating physical or mental disability; or
- The seeking spouse is the custodian of a child of the marriage of any age who requires substantial care and personal supervision because of a physical or mental disability that prevents the spouse from earning a sufficient income to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs.
Factors to Consider
- Each spouse’s ability to provide for their minimum reasonable needs;
- The education and employment skills of the spouses;
- The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training (to enable the spouse seeking maintenance to earn sufficient income);
- The availability and feasibility of educational advancement or training;
- The duration of the marriage;
- The age, employment history, earning ability, and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;
- The effect on each spouse’s ability to provide for that spouse’s minimum reasonable needs while providing periodic child support payments or maintenance, (if applicable);
- Acts by either spouse resulting in excessive or abnormal expenditures or destruction, concealment, or fraudulent disposition of community property, joint tenancy, or other property held in common;
- The contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse;
- The property brought to the marriage by either spouse;
- The contribution of a spouse as homemaker;
- Marital misconduct, including adultery and cruel treatment, by either spouse during the marriage; and
- Any history or pattern of family violence.
Limits to Support
Texas policy requires courts to limit spousal maintenance to the shortest reasonable period, and they may not order support to last longer than ten years unless there is a disability. Two factors determine the duration of spousal maintenance: disability and marriage length.
The duration of support can change if a spouse has a diminished ability to work due to a physical or mental disability or if the spouse seeking support is the caretaker of a child with a physical or mental disability. It is important to note that psychological or physical disabilities may allow a court to extend spousal maintenance indefinitely.
Texas law may also impose statutory limits on support for marriages based on the length of the marriage. If the duration of the marriage is ten years (minimum), the requesting spouse may be eligible for up to five years of support. The spouse may also qualify for five years of support if they are a victim of family violence. If the duration of the marriage is 20 to 30 years, the requesting spouse is eligible for seven years of maintenance. For 30 or more years of marriage, the requesting spouse may be eligible for ten years of payments.
Maintenance can also end in certain circumstances. Spousal support terminates if either party dies, or if the receiving spouse remarries or begins to cohabitate with a new partner. Under Texas law, there is a limit to the amount of spousal maintenance a court can order. A paying spouse cannot be obligated to pay more than $5,000 or 20% of his or her income (whichever amount is less). In this instance, income includes earnings from wages, overtime, and retirement accounts, and it does not include veteran benefits, or social security.
Enforcing Support Payments
Contractual (agreed) spousal support can only be enforced as a contract. If the parties have agreed, the court may order a wage withholding order, but the court cannot make such an order if the parties have not reached an agreement. A party cannot be held in contempt for not paying contractual spousal support, but they can be liable for the amounts owed and attorney’s fees.
How Is Court Ordered Spousal Maintenance Enforced?
If spousal maintenance (‘alimony’ or ‘spousal support’) is ordered, the court can enforce the award through a wage withholding order or contempt proceedings. If the party fails to pay, they may be held in contempt or jailed. In certain circumstances, the non-paying party can be held in contempt and jailed.