Texas gives discretion to judges in granting spousal maintenance awards
Spousal support in the Lone Star State is only narrowly awarded.
The payment of spousal maintenance from one ex-spouse to the other after a divorce can make a huge impact on the standard of living of each person.
A divorcing couple can create a contract between them that contains the terms of a spousal maintenance agreement. That contractual agreement would not be limited by the Texas law that limits what a judge can award if the issue ends up in court. Aside from an agreement on spousal maintenance, any award of spousal maintenance is at the discretion of the court.
The first condition of eligibility is that the recipient will lack sufficient property, including the spouse’s separate property, to provide for the spouse’s “minimum reasonable needs.” After that, one of these second conditions must exist:
- A recent case regarding family violence (certain conditions must be met)
- Incapacitating mental or physical disability
- A marriage of at least 10 years and inability to earn enough money to meet minimum reasonable needs
- Recipient cares for a child of the marriage that requires substantial care and personal supervision, preventing the ex-spouse from earning enough income to meet their minimum reasonable needs
Once eligibility is established, the court must consider “all relevant factors” in fashioning further details of the award, including 11 specific factors in a list such as length of marriage, “marital misconduct, including adultery and cruel treatment,” family violence, contributions by one to the other’s career and more.
State statute provides that the amount of monthly alimony may not be more than the lesser of $5,000 or 20 percent of the payor’s average monthly gross income.
If an alimony recipient’s eligibility is based on incapacitating disability or the responsibility of caring for a disabled child of the marriage, the court may order ongoing alimony unless the condition changes. However, in most situations, duration is limited by the length of the marriage:
- Five years is the limit for marriages less than 10 years if the award was based on family violence or for marriages of 10 to 20 years
- Seven years for marriages of 20 to 30 years
- Ten years for marriages of at least 30 years
The duration of an award is determined by the judge and according to the statute, must be limited to the “shortest reasonable period” for the recipient to earn enough to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs, unless his or her ability to meet his or her own needs is “substantially or totally diminished” by disability, care of a young child of the marriage or another “compelling impediment.”
Spousal maintenance also stops if either party dies, the recipient remarries or he or she “cohabits” with someone in a “dating or romantic relationship in a permanent place of abode on a continuing basis.”
This article covers the basics of Texas spousal maintenance law, but in application to individual cases, the law can be complicated. Anyone with questions about Texas spousal maintenance or considering divorce should seek the legal advice of an experienced family lawyer.
Attorney Lori Watson of The Law Office of Lori Watson in Georgetown represents clients facing alimony issues as well as a broad array of additional family law matters.