Texas spousal maintenance laws are conservative and specific

Texas judges have less discretion than those in other states to fashion an order for alimony because of restrictive statutes.

Alimony, called spousal maintenance in Texas, is quite restricted as compared with that of other states. Eligibility, duration and amount are all strictly controlled.

For this reason, it is important that anyone facing divorce speak with an experienced family lawyer about whether spousal maintenance is likely under the family's circumstances. This is true for both potential recipients and potential payors.

Traditionally, most states have given judges wide discretion to fashion spousal maintenance awards. Nationally, there has been some reform in recent years of alimony laws. Those states reforming their spousal maintenance scheme tend to restrict the duration and expand the reasons it may terminate. Also, an emphasis on only using alimony as a transition to self sufficiency is a trend.

Texas is no exception.

Eligibility

Only a spouse who is unable to meet his or her own "minimum reasonable needs" may be eligible for alimony. In addition, one of these must also be true:

  • The paying spouse has a recent domestic violence conviction where the abuse was against the other spouse or the other spouse's child.
  • The marriage lasted at least 10 years and the recipient is not able to earn enough money to meet minimum reasonable needs. Eligibility may be denied if the recipient has not diligently tried to work or acquire the skills to do so to meet minimum reasonable needs during separation.
  • The recipient will care for a disabled minor or adult child of the marriage, whose disability requires a level of care that prevents the recipient from earning enough to meet minimum reasonable needs.
  • The recipient cannot earn enough to meet minimum reasonable needs because of her or his "incapacitating physical or mental disability."

Relevant factors

In fashioning an award, the law allows the judge to weigh "all relevant factors," including 11 specific things:

  • Whether each can meet his or her own minimum reasonable needs alone
  • Each of their education and work skills, and how long it would take to get enough training, if education or training is feasibly available
  • Marriage length
  • The recipient's age, work history, "earning ability, and physical and emotional condition"
  • Impact on each of child support owed or other spousal maintenance obligations
  • Whether either of them wrongly harmed joint property such as by excessive spending, destruction, hiding or "fraudulent disposition"
  • Whether one spouse contributed to the other's career
  • Property brought into the marriage by either
  • Homemaker contributions
  • "Marital misconduct, including adultery and cruel treatment," a significant factor because some states' laws do not allow adultery to be considered
  • Domestic violence

Duration

If the alimony is based on the recipient's disability or the recipient's custodial disabled child, payments can continue so long as the spouse meets those requirements. Otherwise, maintenance is capped at five, seven or 10 years depending on the eligibility basis and marriage length. In addition, duration is limited to the "shortest reasonable period" in which to reach a point of making enough to meet minimum reasonable needs, unless that ability is lacking because of disability, care of a young child of the marriage or another "compelling impediment."

Amount

The court is without power to order maintenance more than the lesser of $5,000 or one-fifth of the payor's gross monthly income.

If the parties agree, they can enter into a contract for maintenance with terms that differ from those a judge could order under the law.

Lawyer Michael Suffness of the law firm of Michael B. Suffness, P.C., in Plano represents Texans in divorce throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.