Texas spousal maintenance laws pose substantial challenges for those seeking awards of periodic payments following a divorce. If granted, awards are generally modest and short-term. Payments function to support a former spouse's “minimum general needs,” not to exceed $5000 per month or 25% of the owing party’s gross annual income.
How Will a Court Decide the Amount of an Award?
Courts consider several factors when determining whether to award spousal maintenance, including:
- Length of the marriage;
- Whether either spouse wasted assets;
- The age, employment history, education, health and skills of each spouse;
- Whether a spouse seeking contributed to the educational or professional development of the other;
- Whether a spouse engaged in adultery or cruel treatment;
- The presence of a mental or physical disability;
- Whether a receiving spouse supports a child of the marriage with mental or physical disabilities; and
- Any other factor the court deems relevant.
Now let's take a look at how some of these factors are considered:
Length of MarriageAmong the most important determinants of potential spousal maintenance awards is the length of marriage. According to the Texas Family Code:
- If a couple has been married for ten to twenty years, the seeking spouse is eligible to receive five years of spousal maintenance.
- If the couple has been married for twenty to thirty years, the seeking spouse is eligible to receive seven years of spousal maintenance.
- If the couple has been married for thirty or more years, the seeking spouse is eligible to receive ten years of spousal maintenance.
“Wasting” assets refers to the act of spending community property in a manner grossly unfavorable to one spouse. Examples of wasting include lavish spending on gifts to a paramore or personal entertainment. A spouse who is found to have engaged in wasteful spending may be ordered to pay spousal maintenance.
Age, Employment History, Education, and Skills
Courts heavily weigh socioeconomic status when determining spousal maintenance awards. The employment history and educational attainment of each spouse will underlie a court’s determination of earning capacity. Absent other major factors, those with a demonstrated ability to meet their basic needs will likely fail to receive large awards in Texas.
Mental or Physical Disability
A spouse unable to secure food, shelter, or life-sustaining medication as the result of a disability is in a strong position to receive spousal maintenance. A disability may be broadly interpreted to mean any condition that substantially limits or incapacitates an individual. Schizophrenia, neurodegenerative diseases, and amputation are among the most likely justifications for extended spousal maintenance.
In Texas, spousal maintenance is not intended to maintain a particular lifestyle of a divorced spouse. Instead, it is designed for circumstances in which a spouse is unable to meet their minimum basic needs. However, those facing substantial hardship from a disability or socioeconomic disparity may be eligible for an award. If you suspect that these factors apply to your situation, contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss potential courses of action.