Everything is bigger in Texas, except alimony

Texas spousal maintenance laws are comparatively conservative.

Texas has restrictive spousal maintenance laws as compared to those of most other states. While a growing alimony reform movement has recently had limited success in some states, Texas already had spousal maintenance laws that substantially restrict the circumstances under which a spouse can be ordered to pay maintenance to an ex-spouse after divorce.

Given the limitations on judge-crafted alimony awards, it makes sense that Texans regularly use private contracts to establish spousal support obligations. Normally, such an agreement then is incorporated into the court-issued divorce decree.

It is important that any Texan contemplating divorce retain an experienced family lawyer for advice and representation. An attorney can help negotiate a private maintenance contract if that is the direction the couple is going.

If the pair is headed to divorce court where the judge will determine maintenance, knowledgeable legal counsel can fight for a fair arrangement that complies with Texas alimony standards.

A seasoned attorney is valuable whether the person is the prospective alimony payor or payee (in Texas called the obligor or obligee).

Texas maintenance guidelines

While many states use the payment of support from one ex-spouse to the other as a way to help the obligee maintain the lifestyle the couple had when married, Texas, by contrast, only allows maintenance if the obligee will not have sufficient means to meet his or her "minimum reasonable needs." In addition, one of these must also be true:

  • The obligor was convicted of a family violence crime.
  • The obligee has an incapacitating disability.
  • The marriage was at least 10 years long and the obligee cannot meet minimum reasonable needs independently (obligee must show he or she has been diligent in trying to earn enough or in developing necessary work skills pending divorce).
  • The obligee will care for a minor or adult child of the marriage with a severe disability, preventing obligee from meeting minimum reasonable needs.

To decide the terms of a maintenance arrangement, the judge must consider "all relevant factors," including 11 specific things:

  • Each party's ability to meet their own minimum reasonable needs
  • Each party's employability or how long it will take to get enough training to work, and the availability of training
  • Marriage length
  • Obligee's age, employment history, earning capacity and health
  • Child support or other maintenance obligations of either
  • Excessive spending, or hiding, destroying or fraudulently disposing of property
  • Contribution to the earning potential of the other
  • Property brought to marriage
  • Contributions as homemaker
  • Marital misconduct
  • Family violence

The alimony's duration must be as short as is possible for the obligee to become self-sufficient, unless the obligee cannot work because of disability, caring for young child of the marriage or "another compelling impediment." If the maintenance is based on the obligee's incapacitating disability or the obligee's care for a severely disabled child of the marriage, the alimony can continue as long as the condition creating eligibility continues.

Otherwise, the duration is capped at five, seven or 10 years, depending on the length of the marriage and the particular reason for eligibility. Maintenance ends if either party dies, or if the obligee remarries or lives with a romantic partner.

The monthly amount is capped at the lesser of $5,000 or 20 percent of obligor's average monthly income.

A new article in Texas Lawyer provides an overview of these Texas spousal maintenance issues.

Keywords: Texas, spousal maintenance, alimony, divorce, judge, private contract, spousal support, court, obligor, oblige, factors, minimum reasonable needs, marriage, disability