Texas law limits the amount of spousal maintenance that a former spouse can get to meet their minimum reasonable needs and not more than $5,000/month. Most Courts start with that $5,000 number and then start subtracting the income that the former spouse should be able to earn and other things such as investment income. Also, it is limited by being not more than 25% of the gross income of the paying spouse. It is also time-limited. The most I’ve seen a Court order in Spousal Maintenance in one of my cases is $120,000 over course of three years; however, sometimes agreements are made for more than that.
How Will a Court Decide the Amount of a Spousal Maintenance/Alimony Award?
The court considers several factors when determining whether or not to issue a spousal maintenance award. According to the Texas Family Code some factors the court will consider when awarding spousal maintenance are :
• The length of the marriage; or
• Whether either spouse wasted any assets; or
• The age, employment history, education, health and skills of each spouse; or
• Whether the spouse seeking support contributed to the education and professional development of the other spouse; or
• Whether the spouse from whom support is sought engaged in adultery or cruel treatment of the seeking spouse; or
• They are unable to provide for their basic needs due to a mental or physical disability; or
• Whether the seeking spouse has custody of a child from the marriage who needs special care and supervision; or
• Any other factor that the court deems relevant.
Let's discuss each of these factors briefly.
The Length of the Marriage
The amount of a spousal maintenance award is based off various factors but one of the most common factors is the length of marriage. According to the Texas Family Code, there are statutory guidelines that the court abides by when awarding spousal support :
1. If a couple has been married for ten to twenty years, the seeking spouse is eligible to receive five years of spousal maintenance.
2. If the couple has been married for twenty to thirty years, the seeking spouse is eligible to receive seven years of spousal maintenance.
3. If the couple has been married for thirty or more years, the seeking spouse is eligible to receive ten years of spousal maintenance.
Going back to our original scenario, Linda and David have been married for fifteen years, so Linda would be eligible to receive up to five years of spousal maintenance. Let's move on.
A Spouse Wasted Assets
What does it mean to say that a spouse wasted an asset? Simply put, it means that one spouse took some sort of action regarding the couples property that was not favorable to the other spouse. What is an example of taking an action that is not favorable to the other spouse? Typically this situation can be exemplified when a cheating spouse gives gifts such as cars and jewelry to their paramour. The cheating spouse is said to have wasted assets. In our example, a Court can take the cheating spouse's actions into consideration when determining whether or not to award a spousal maintenance award. Another example is if a spouse spends community funds on gambling and hides any earnings (if there are any).
Age, Employment History, Education, Health And Skills Of Each Spouse
This factor is pretty straightforward. This factor allows the Court to take the couples socio-economic status into consideration. The age of each spouse is vital because it will have an impact on the earning capacity of each spouse. The employment history of each spouse will indicate the earning capacity for each spouse. For example, if a spouse is 70 years old, that spouse will have a lesser earning capacity than a 20 year-old.
Furthermore, the educational attainment for each spouse will also have an influence on the amount of money each spouse is capable of making. For example, Linda and David have two very different earning capacities. David is an engineer and he works in the private sector. He also has earned an advanced degree. On the other hand, Linda is a technical writer and works for the public school district. She's earned a bachelors degree only. David's income will exceed Linda's income by 100% within the next year. A Texas Court can take David's current income and Linda's income into consideration when deciding whether or not to issue a support award.
Whether the Spouse Seeking Support Contributed to the Education and Professional Development of the Other Spouse
Oftentimes in marriage couples make tough decisions. Some of the hardest decisions are about finances. During their marriage, Linda and David decided that Linda would work and support the family while David completed his Masters degree. It took him two years to earn the degree. Texas Court's have long recognized the need to compensate those individuals who aided their spouses in completing educational and professional development. For this reason, Linda and perhaps you, may be able to persuade a Court to issue a spousal maintenance award.
The Spouse Seeking Spousal Support is Unable to Provide for Their Basic Needs Due to a Mental or Physical Disability
What are basic needs? Basic needs are food, shelter, and any life sustaining medication and hygienic needs. If a seeking spouse is not able to provide food, shelter and hygienic needs for themselves, then a Court may award them with spousal support. Getting divorced can be quite traumatic for a spouse that was heavily dependent on the paying spouse so courts tend to help the needing spouse transition to life on their own.
What is a mental or physical disability? A mental or physical disability is a limitation that incapacitates an individual's way of life. Some examples of a mental disability include but are not limited to the following: bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, and post traumatic stress disorder (often called "PTSD").
On the other hand, a physical disability could include an amputated leg or arm, and paraplegia or any other debilitating disease. Each of these mental and physical disabilities effect an individuals lifestyle in terms of their professional development and social interactions. Depending on the severity of each of these health challenges, an individual may lack the ability to adequately financially provide for themselves. The disability also does not need to exist prior to the marriage. You could still qualify for spousal support even if you developed the disability after marriage, but it must develop before the divorce if final.
Whether the Seeking Spouse has Custody of a Child From the Marriage Who Needs Special Care and Supervision
Let's add some facts to Linda and David's situation. Let's say that Linda and David's six year old son was diagnosed with Autism when he was three. Autism is a development disorder. It effects the cognitive and social skills of an individual diagnosed with it. Linda is the primary caregiver for their six year old son. Because Linda is the primary care giver for their six year old, a Court may decide to grant her a spousal maintenance award.
Spousal Maintenance (sometimes called Alimony) is a new concept in Texas. It is not intended to maintain a particular lifestyle of a divorced spouse. Instead, it is supposed to help a spouse with lower earning capacity get back on his or her feet. It is limited to a max of $5,000/month over 5 years in most cases, if even allowed at all. Most divorces don’t have an Spousal Maintenance award.