An Introduction to Alimony(Spousal Maintenance) in Texas

This article will seek to provide you with helpful information regarding getting or paying support to a spouse. Some people don't even want to pay child support, so imagine when that same person is ordered to pay spousal support. Paying support for your spouse has many names : 'Spousal Support', 'Spousal Maintenance', and even 'Alimony'. Here, I'll likely use those terms interchangeably.

Did you know that Texas is not considered to be an "Alimony state"? However, as a caveat Texas enables a spouse to receive support from the employed or otherwise "better off" spouse if the person meets certain requirements. Texas courts refer to this as 'Spousal Support' when referring to support received over time (which will likely exceed the date of divorce) and 'Spousal Maintenance' to commonly refer to the support received while the divorce is still pending.

Consider the Following Example :

David & Linda have been married for 15 years. He's an engineer at Exxon. He's been having marital problems for the last 5 years, nothing dramatic, but it is not working out. He has two kids (ages 6 and 10) in good public schools. Linda works as a technical writer. Although she makes less money than David, she is fulfilled by her career.

Meet David :

David goes to work each day after dropping the kids off at school. He works about 10 to 12 hours each day. He also travels abroad a few times a year for work. However, he likes to spend time with his family in hisfree time. He also enjoys doing many different activities with his kids. On average, he and his family take at least two trips a year together. David's relationship with his wife has evolved to being like a business-relationship. Their relationship now solely revolves around the kid's activities and needs and the financial upkeep of their lifestyle.

Meet Linda :

Linda is a self-starter. Linda is a technical writer for the local school district. She usually arrives to work an hour early. She has been promoted two times within the last year. Though David drops them off, Linda picks up the kids from school daily and attends their school activities and parent-teacher meetings regularly. She doesn't travel for work. In her free time, Linda enjoys spending time with her children and her parents. Last week while speaking with a friend, she described her relationship with David as being "distant." She is disengaged with her relationship with David and has been for quite some time. She often thinks about what it would be like if they got a divorce.

David & Linda's Dilemna :

David worries about being divorced for several reasons: for one thing, he's concerned about spending less time with his kids, receiving the social stigma from the members of his church, and he worries about the financial impact that a divorce will have on his finances (child support, alimony, losing some of hisretirement, etc.). He has some savings, but he doesn't want to spend it all on his lawyer.

David is a careful and patient buyer of goods and services. He likes to research and form his own opinions. Price is important, but not decisive. Fundamentally though, he will go with his gut instinct. Recently David began to research spousal support/alimony in Texas. David finally decided to file for divorce last month and Linda was served with a copy of the divorce petition.

Now, both Linda and David have concerns about spousal maintenance. Let’s discuss some of the issues concerning alimony in Texas that David, Linda, and perhaps even you will need to know once the divorce is initiated.

The Basic Rules of Spousal Maintenance

What does Linda, and perhaps you, need to know about some basic rules about Texas spousal maintenance awards? Beyond the fact that maintenance awards are not given out automatically, Texas has some very strict guidelines governing the eligibility and tenure of maintenance awards.

According to the Texas Family Code, the award of spousal maintenance is governed by some basic constraints. For starters, spousal awards generally only last for up to three years. Additionally, according to the Texas Family Code [Section 8.506], spousal awards are not for an indefinite amount of time. The award will typically terminate once the receiving spouse remarries or begins to live with another person "in a permanent place of abode on a continuing conjugal basis" [Id].

Does Your Marriage Qualify for Spousal Support / Alimony?

A: It depends. In Texas, a spouse can qualify for spousal support if certain requirements are met and certain factors are considered.

Linda has a million thoughts running through her mind once she is served with the divorce papers. She thinks to herself, "what happens to the lifestyle that I am used to living? Will it all just end? That’s not fair! I made all the money while David was in school earning his Masters Degree. I didn’t complain about it one bit and during that time not one bill ever went unpaid."

Could You Get Spousal Support / Alimony in a Texas Divorce?

A: Sometimes.

A Texas court can award spousal support/alimony in a divorce decree. However, as part of the divorce process, a spouse seeking alimony (or spousal maintenance as it is commonly called in Texas) will have some difficult obstacles to overcome.

The court begins its analysis with a presumption that a spouse is not entitled to receive alimony.

  • From our above example, Linda will need to show the court that she has made a good faith effort to develop her skills so that she can earn an income sufficient enough to provide for her basic needs but she still needs financial help.
  • The court will first determine if Linda qualifies under Texas law, and then consider other relevant factors.

Let’s talk about some general rules concerning spousal support/spousal maintenance in Texas. Specifically, let’s discuss some basic governing rules in Texas.

Who Qualifies For Spousal Maintenance?

Is Linda eligible to receive a spousal maintenance award from David ? After all, David does make more money than her. Furthermore, she did foot the bill for expenses while he was in school. Does that even matter though?

Texas Courts do not award spousal maintenance liberally. This means that not everyone who seeks a maintenance award receives it. It is pretty difficult to get spousal support in Texas, especially if it exceeds past the date of divorce. In order to be considered to be eligible to receive an award, the seeking spouse must prove that they do not have enough income or property to meet their basic needs.

They must also meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Be married for at least 10 years and the seeking spouse lacks the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs; or
  • The party from who the seeking spouse is requesting support from was convicted of family violence; 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.