Understanding Spousal Support and Maintenance
Learn what it takes to qualify for spousal support / maintenance (alimony), and what you will need to prove to the court to receive spousal support.
Types of Spousal Support and Maintenance in Texas
If you are going through a divorce, you may have questions about ‘alimony’, or spousal support. Spousal support helps to offset the financial issues a non- or lower-wage-earning spouse may face after divorce. These payments are separate from the marital property, child support, or other payments. Below are the different types of spousal support or spousal maintenance.
Temporary Support or maintenance
The court may order you or your spouse to pay temporary support or spousal maintenance. The court may order this type of spousal maintenance when a couple separates while the divorce is pending. This type of spousal maintenance ends when the divorce becomes final.
Short Term and Rehabilitative spousal maintenance
Short Term and Rehabilitative Maintenance are terms often used interchangeably. At separation, a spouse may identify that they need time to find employment and become self-sustaining. This spousal maintenance lasts until a certain date when the recipient should no longer need the help.
Sometimes in Texas an order of support does not have a specified end date. This is what the court refers to as permanent support. This type of support continues until the death of the payor or recipient, or if the recipient remarries.
Who Can Receive Spousal Support or Spousal Maintenance
In Texas, the court will not prevent a spouse from choosing to pay spousal maintenance either on their own or as part of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. However, if your spouse does not offer to pay, you will need to petition the court. To be eligible you must prove that you are unable to support your reasonable needs and:
- Your inability is due to physical or mental disability;
- Your inability is due to being the custodian of a child of the marriage who requires exceptional care due to physical or mental disability;
- Your marriage lasted 10 or more years.
You may also be eligible for spousal support payments if the paying spouse was convicted or received deferred adjudication for an act of family violence committed:
- During the marriage but no more than 2 years before filing for divorce; or
- While the divorce is pending.
You will also need to prove you are working hard to become self-sustaining. This may include looking for a job or going back to school. You might take a certification or training course to update your resume.
Understanding Spousal Maintenance
There are many factors that play into a spousal maintenance order. The judge will consider these factors when deciding what type of support you will receive and for how long. Understanding these factors can help you prepare to support your petition or argue for a more favorable payment schedule.
What Factors Does the Court Consider for those seeking maintenance?
A judge will consider the following basis factors:
- The financial resources available to the spouses after the distribution of marital property.
- Each spouse’s level of education and employable skills
- Time needed to finish a degree and/or training needed to find gainful employment.
- A spouse’s access to such training and how likely they are to complete it within a certain timeframe.
- The age and health of each spouse.
- The length of the marriage, marriages lasting 20 or more years may qualify for a longer-term payment schedule.
- If support is necessary to maintain a similar pre-divorce standard of living.
- If there is a history of abuse.
- Any other special circumstances that might be grounds for support.
A spouse may choose to pay this support in a lump sum (if they are able to) or as monthly payments.
What are the Texas court requirements to receive spousal maintenance?
There are some rules you must follow to be in compliance with your order for support:
- Spousal maintenance payments are payable only by cash transfer or a check.
- Payments in the form of assets or paying off a spouse’s debts will not count toward your order for support.
- The payment schedule must be in the divorce decree or other written agreement.
- Payments must continue until the recipient remarries, dies, or the term of the agreement expires.
- Payments occurring before the divorce is final will not count toward your order for support.
- Support payments cannot begin while both spouses still live in the same home.
- Payments cannot begin in the same year that you file a joint federal income tax return.
When does Spousal Maintenance End?
Unless agreed on in a valid legal contract, the judge will determine how long spousal maintenance in Texas will continue. The judge bases this on several factors:
- The length of the marriage
- How long it will take for the recipient to become self-sustaining
- The age and health of the recipient
Spousal support lasts for the shortest reasonable amount of time that allows the receiving spouse to become self-sustaining. For example, temporary support lasts only until the divorce is final. However, permanent support may continue until the recipient dies or remarries.
Depending on the type of support, there are some definite limits to how long payments will continue. In a marriage lasting less than 10 years that ended due to family violence, the maximum duration is no more than 5 years. In a marriage of 30 or more years spousal support can continue for no more than 10 years. With a disabled spouse or a spouse caring for a disabled child of the marriage, payments will continue as long as the spouse is eligible.
Spousal Support and Taxes
Spousal maintenance payments are tax deductible for the payer. These payments are taxable as income to the recipient.
Spousal Maintenance Problems for Texas Court
While a judge can order a spouse to pay spousal support, this does not always mean that they follow through. At some point after the divorce is final you may encounter issues with payment. Here are some of the issues you may face and what options you may have for addressing them.
Falling Behind on Spousal Maintenance Payments
If you have an order for support it is important that you make your payments on time and according to the conditions of the order. In Texas, an order for support is treated the same as child support. Failure to pay can result in serious consequences.
If Your Spouse Refuses to Pay
If your spouse stops paying spousal support and is unwilling to pay, you will need to file a motion to enforce with the court. The court will charge your spouse with contempt. This is a hefty charge. If your spouse is found to be in violation of the legal order it can result in wage garnishment or even jail time under the law.
Can I Modify My Support Order?
Spousal support orders are final and enforceable by law. Changes to your legal order are difficult to make and require special circumstances.
If you are unable to pay due to a major change in your financial situation, it is important to let the court know as soon as possible. Communicate these changes with your ex-spouse, your lawyer and continue paying what you are able to during this time. Doing so will help you avoid contempt charges.
Can Spousal Support End Early?
There are some circumstances that would end an order of support early. An order may end early if the recipient spouse dies. An order does not always end upon the death of the paying spouse. In some cases, the judge may order that the rest of the support order get paid from the deceased’s estate. An order for support may end early if the receiving spouse remarries or begins living with a partner who supports them financially.
Texas Spousal Maintenance Issues: Do I Need a Lawyer and a court order?
Some issues of spousal support in Texas may be solvable simply by speaking with the paying spouse. However, if changes are necessary, you will want to consult with a lawyer. They will be able to guide you through the laws and the legal process whether it’s a simple temporary modification, a complete overhaul, or a motion to enforce. An experienced attorney will ensure that no matter how your legal situation may change in a Texas divorce, that your payments continue to be fair and reasonable under Texas laws.