Alimony in divorce is only narrowly available in Texas and its duration tends to be shorter rather than longer. We previously posted an article describing the narrow eligibility rules for spousal maintenance, as alimony is called in Texas, and here we will talk more about how long it can last over time.
Information about eligibility for Texas maintenance is also provided by the Dallas Bar Association.
Duration by contract
First, if the divorcing parties negotiate a private contract for spousal support (another term for alimony), its duration can be specified in that contract, regardless of what a judge might otherwise order absent their agreement.
Duration by court order
Second, absent a contract about alimony, the judge will set the duration of maintenance in the final divorce order. Texas law leaves little judicial discretion to set duration as compared to most other states.
The length of spousal support payments ordered by the judge is determined by rules that consider mainly the length of the marriage, family violence, the shortest reasonable time period for the recipient (called the obligee) to earn enough to meet minimum reasonable needs, disability of recipient, custodial care responsibilities for a young child of the marriage or a disabled child of the marriage of any age, incapacitating disability of the recipient and other compelling impediment to the recipient’s ability to earn enough income to meet minimum reasonable needs.
The law also directs the judge to consider all relevant factors in setting duration, including those in a list of 11 specific things such as excessive spending or hiding assets, contribution of one spouse to the career of the other, homemaker contributions, marital misconduct, family violence and others.
In essence, with some room for exception, the duration of maintenance that a judge can order is normally capped at five, seven or 10 years maximum, unless the recipient has incapacitating disability or cares for a child of the marriage with incapacitating disability. If the incapacitating disability ends, the maintenance can be terminated.
Termination by events occurring after divorce order
The obligation to pay alimony ends when either party dies or when the recipient remarries.
There is a national discussion about whether spousal maintenance should end when the recipient cohabits with a new partner. Clearly, it is a modern reality that it is more and more common for romantic partners to choose to live together in the same household without marrying. Various state legislatures are debating how their respective alimony laws should handle this trend, since members of a cohabitating couple may provide financial support to one another in the way spouses do, which raises the question of whether it would be fair for the former spouse to have to continue to pay financial support.
Texas law provides that in this situation, a court hearing is to be held and the judge must terminate the alimony obligation if the obligee lives with another person in a “dating or romantic relationship in a permanent place of abode on a continuing basis.” It should be noted that this basis for alimony termination has been held not to apply to an alimony obligation established by contract, rather than court order.
Because proving the kind of cohabitating relationship the law requires for termination is harder than simply showing a remarriage, it is important to a party on either side of this issue to obtain legal counsel for advice and advocacy.
Our attorneys regularly represent and advise divorcing spouses, who may be either potential maintenance obligors or obligees, about the intricacies of Texas alimony law in light of their particular circumstances. Contact us with your questions about spousal support or any other legal matter related to your divorce or family. We represent people in the Houston metro area and throughout the Lone Star State.