Court-ordered alimony or spousal maintenance is a common feature of some Texas divorces. However, getting spousal support in Texas is not easy. Courts do not automatically order alimony in Texas. However, there are some limited circumstances under which a divorced spouse may be granted spousal maintenance for a specific duration recognized under the Texas Family Code. The law guides courts about when they might grant requests for spousal maintenance.
What is spousal support?
Spousal support in Texas is additional money that a higher-earning spouse pays to the other spouse for a specific time to provide for the recipient spouse’s support. This money is paid in addition to any division of assets. Maintenance that is paid before the divorce is final is called temporary spousal maintenance. The money can help the recipient spouse to pursue an education, contribute to the needs of the children, pay his or her mortgage, and become more financially self-sufficient.
What is contractual alimony?
Under Texas law, spouses can negotiate contractual alimony agreements and include them in their final divorce decrees. The amount and duration of contractual alimony will be determined by the agreement reached by the spouses. The terms of contractual alimony are not imposed by the Texas courts. If a problem arises, the courts will only be able to enforce the contractual provisions to the degree that they would enforce the terms of any other contract. Unlike spousal maintenance, which the law provides specific legal remedies for violations, the same remedies are not available for the enforcement of contractual alimony.
Eligibility for spousal maintenance
Under certain circumstances, a judge might order one spouse to pay the other spouse support for a specific duration. To qualify for court-ordered maintenance, the requesting spouse will have to prove that he or she will not have enough property or income to meet his or her reasonable needs. The property that he or she will have includes the community property that he or she will receive in the divorce. Under Texas Family Code § 8.051, the requesting spouse will also have to prove one or more of the following things:
- The marriage has lasted 10 or more years, and the requesting spouse is unable to secure employment that will earn enough to provide for his or her needs.
- The requesting spouse cares for a child with special needs from the marriage, and his or her responsibilities prevent him or her from earning enough income to provide for his or her needs.
- The requesting spouse became disabled during the marriage and is unable to earn enough income to support himself or herself.
- The paying spouse has been convicted of domestic violence or has received a sentence of deferred adjudication within two years of the filing of the divorce.
How is spousal support calculated in Texas?
Every marriage and divorce has unique circumstances. Because of this, Texas does not have a single rule for how to determine the amount that one spouse might be ordered to pay the other for spousal maintenance. Instead, under Texas Family Code § 8.052, judges consider several factors when determining the amount of spousal maintenance that might be ordered. These factors include the following:
- The requesting spouse’s ability to independently provide for his or her reasonable needs
- The requesting spouse’s educational and economic resources and the amount of time required for him or her to complete his or her education or employment training to secure employment
- The length of the marriage
- The requesting spouse’s education, age, employment history, emotional and physical condition, and earning ability
- The ability of each spouse to provide for his or her reasonable needs while paying support for a child
- Actions are taken by either spouse to conceal, destroy, commit fraud, or engage in excessive expenditures to avoid maintenance orders or to secure maintenance
- Contributions made by each spouse to the other’s ability to gain an education or to increase his or her earning power
- Property brought into the marriage by either spouse
- Contributions to the household made by a homemaker
- Marital misconduct committed by either spouse during the marriage
- Any history of domestic violence
While the court can order spousal maintenance after considering these factors, the monthly amount that can be ordered is capped at the lesser of $5,000 per month or 20% of the payor spouse’s average monthly gross income.
How long does alimony last?
In cases in which the spouses have been married for less than 10 years, maintenance will generally not be ordered except in special circumstances. Under Texas Family Code § 8.054, the maximum duration of a spousal maintenance order for spouses who have been married from 10 to 20 years is five years. For people whose marriages lasted from 20 to 30 years, the order for support can be for a maximum of seven years. For people who were married for longer than 30 years, the maximum duration of a spousal maintenance order is 10 years.
The court can order spousal maintenance in certain cases for marriages that lasted less than 10 years. For example, a requesting spouse who is caring for a disabled child or who is disabled may receive spousal maintenance as long as he or she remains eligible even if the marriage was shorter. Victims of domestic violence who were married for less than 10 years can receive spousal maintenance for a maximum of five years.
Taxes and alimony
In the past, the payor spouse was able to reduce taxable income by his or her spousal maintenance payments. The amounts received by the receiving spouse were reportable as income for tax purposes. However, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act brought drastic changes. For divorce decrees after Dec. 31, 2018, spousal maintenance and alimony payments no longer reduce the taxable incomes of the paying spouses. The receiving spouses no longer have to report the spousal support payments that they receive as income, so they receive the payments tax-free. To account for these changes, some spouses negotiate lower monthly payments to account for the higher taxes that the paying spouses will have to pay.
Get help from a spousal support lawyer at the Covington Law Firm, PLLC
In Texas, the rules regarding spousal maintenance are complex. If you want to request spousal maintenance or to try to secure an agreement for contractual alimony, you might benefit from consulting with an experienced family law attorney. Contact the Covington Law Firm in Richmond, Texas today by calling 281.762.9578 or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.