Spousal maintenance – also referred to as “alimony” in many jurisdictions outside of Texas – continues to be among the most controversial issues in family law. This is partly because of media influence. Some spousal maintenance cases – such as those involving celebrities – are published in the mainstream media, and sometimes the amounts of maintenance awards can be astounding to observers. Spousal maintenance won’t stop being controversial anytime soon, but the reality of maintenance is quite different from what lay people often assume. In this post, we’re going to give a quick review of spousal maintenance and how this concept works here in Texas.
Spousal Maintenance is Based on Two Basic Conditions
Not only is spousal maintenance not awarded in all cases, the qualifications for spousal maintenance are actually quite high in Texas. To qualify for spousal maintenance, the requesting spouse needs to meet two conditions: (1) the requesting spouse doesn’t have the means to provide for their basic needs at the time of the divorce, and (2) one of four other circumstances must be present:
- The paying spouse must have been convicted of domestic violence within two years of the divorce filing
- The requesting spouse has primary physical custody of the child, and the child requires special care due to physical or mental disabilities, and this special care prevents the custodial parent from being able to meet certain needs
- The marriage lasted for at least 10 years and the requesting spouse is not employable at the time of the divorce
- The requesting spouse cannot meet basic minimum needs because of a physical or mental disability
Simply put, these conditions must be present for a spousal maintenance award to be possible. Once this threshold is met, then a Texas judge will conduct a thorough examination of the circumstances of the marriage to determine the amount and duration of the award.
The Presumption Against Maintenance in TX
One point which readers should keep in mind is that Texas has a standing presumption that spousal maintenance is not appropriate following divorce. In other words, those requesting maintenance have a bit of a hurdle to overcome right from the outset. This means that judges will tend to weigh the evidence in favor of not awarding maintenance if there may be doubt as to the relative employability of the requesting spouse, or doubt regarding other factors.
Courts Use a Complex Analysis to Award Maintenance
If the requesting spouse can show that the two conditions for spousal maintenance are present, and also shows that they have made a sincere effort to become self-supporting but still require help, then a Texas judge may award maintenance. Judges perform a complex analysis when determining the amount, duration, and payment method of awards. Every case is unique, and will be treated as such for purposes of analysis; but here are a few of the common factors which are known to be significant in the analysis:
- Adultery, cruel treatment, or other misconduct
- The economic contributions made to the marriage by each partner
- Contributions made as a homemaker during the marriage
- The overall length of the marriage
- The ability of the paying spouse to pay the maintenance
- The earning ability of each spouse
- The age of each spouse
- The mental and physical health of each spouse
- The education and employability of each spouse
- Any other relevant factors
Duration & Amount of Maintenance Awards
The State of Texas has somewhat atypical rules and guidelines when it comes to the duration and amount of spousal maintenance awards. If the maintenance is given because of a mental or physical disability of the requesting spouse or a child, then the maintenance may continue indefinitely. For awards which don’t involve some sort of permanent condition, Texas law limits the duration of awards based on how long the marriage lasted. The longest an award can last is 10 years, and this is only if the parties were married for at least 30 years.
The amount of an award cannot exceed either $5,000 per month, or 20 percent of the paying spouse’s monthly income, whichever is the least amount. If the paying spouse is paid via commission, or doesn’t have a fixed salary, then the court may take the average monthly income for award calculation purposes.
The Parties Can Agree on Maintenance of Contractual Alimony
If you are attempting to resolve your divorce amicably, and both parties are in agreement that one spouse should receive maintenance for a period of time, the parties can agree to spousal maintenance, or even to contractual alimony if the amount and duration exceeds the amount under the law. Parties should beware, however, as to the long-term benefits and detriments of such an arrangement and only enter into this type of agreement after consulting with an attorney.
Contact Divorce Concierge for More Information
Hopefully this sheds some light on how spousal maintenance works here in Texas. Maintenance is a complicated issue, so you should always seek legal advice before entering into such an agreement. If you need more details, please contact Divorce Concierge today.