Sometimes a divorce in Texas will result in contractional alimony. This is a payment made by one spouse to the other during and after the divorce process. Here in Texas, these payments are often referred to as spousal maintenance or spousal support. We’ll dive into who can get spousal maintenance in Texas and how these maintenance payments are calculated.
Qualifying for Spousal Maintenance in Texas
In a Texas divorce, either spouse is able to request spousal support. However, the Texas court will typically only award a spousal maintenance payment if the requesting spouse isn’t able to provide for their basic needs and meet at least one of the following conditions:
- If the supporting spouse is convicted of an act of family violence against the other spouse or their children either while the divorce is pending or within two years of the divorce filing
- If the requesting spouse is unable to earn a self-supporting income due to physical or mental disability
- If the marriage has lasted at least ten years and the requesting spouse doesn’t have the ability to earn income to meet their basic needs
- If the requesting spouse is the custodial parent of a child requiring substantial care and/or personal supervision due to a physical or mental disability that prevents the custodial parent from being able to work to earn a self-supporting income
Factors for Determining Maintenance Awards in Texas
Texas law assumes that spousal support is not appropriate. However, if the spouse requesting the support demonstrates they’ve made effort to either earn sufficient income or to acquire the education or training needed to become independent financially and they still need support then, according to Texas Family Code, the court will proceed with the evaluation for support.
Texas courts then evaluate factors that will together determine the amount, duration, nature, and payment method of the alimony. These factors include:
- Both spouse’s abilities to provide for the dependent spouse’s reasonable needs
- The education of both spouses as well as their employment skills and how long it would take to acquire the training or further education needed for the requesting spouse to be able to be financially independent
- The length of the marriage
- Requesting spouse’s age, earning ability, employment history, as well as any emotional and physical conditions
- Each spouse’s ability to meet their reasonable needs while paying any applicable child support
- If either spouse destroyed, disposed of, hid, or wasted any community property
- If either spouse contributed to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other during the time they were married
- What property the spouses brought to their marriage
- Any spousal contributions as a homemaker
- Any marital misconduct, cruelty, domestic violence, or adultery by either spouse during the course of their marriage
- And any other history or patterns of family violence
Duration of Maintenance Orders
The Texas law requirement for judges forces them to follow very strict guidelines when it comes to deciding the duration of any spousal support or alimony. If the support is ordered due to either a mental or physical disability, because of duties as the custodial parent of a baby or young child of the marriage, or another reason, then the judge may order payments as long as the condition or circumstance exists. However, the Texas court may also review the support order periodically in the future. For all other reasons for alimony, spousal maintenance is limited by Texas law as follows:
- 5 Years of Spousal Maintenance
- If the marriage lasted less than 10 years and supporting spouse was convicted of family violence
- If the marriage lasted more than 10 years but less than 20 years
- 7 Years of Spousal Maintenance
- If the marriage lasted at least 20 years but not more than 30 years
- 10 Years of Spousal Maintenance
- If the marriage lasted for a minimum of 30 years
Texas spousal maintenance laws also require the judge to order support for the shortest time frame necessary for the spouse seeking maintenance to be able to support their reasonable needs. This is with the exception of mental or physical disabilities or other compelling circumstances such as being the custodial parent.
There are, however, situations that will cause the maintenance order to end before the official end date if one of the following circumstances applies:
- The death of either former spouse
- The receiving spouse remarries
- The spouse receiving alimony payments lives with a third party in a romantic relationship
A maintenance order may also end early upon either a review of the order or a future order from the Texas court. It is vital to understand that until an order has officially changed or been terminated that you must still follow the court order.
Amount of Maintenance in Texas
Texas state law is unique because it places a restriction on the amount of alimony or spousal maintenance a court is able to order. Spousal support in Texas cannot be more than either $5000 each month or more than 20% of the average monthly gross income of the supporting spouse, whichever happens to be less.
Typically, a judge will order periodic payments which usually occur every month. Occasionally the court will issue an order for income withholding. This gives authority to the employer of the supporting spouse to deduct the payments from their paycheck. The payments are then forwarded to the appropriate agency.
Changing a Maintenance Award
Spousal support orders may be modified by the court if circumstances change substantially since the initial order. Until the change is official, the obligor must continue to make payments for the current order.
Failure to comply with a court order, even if it is in the stages of being modified, is a very serious offense that could lead to severe fines and even time in jail.
Court Ordered Spousal Maintenance and Taxes in Texas
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 greatly impacted spousal support payments. Prior to 2019 former spouses paying alimony after filing for divorce could deduct these payments from their income. The former spouse they were making the payments to then reported the alimony as income and paid taxes.
However, for court orders that were finalized on or after January 1, 2019, these payments are not considered income for the recipient. This means that the spouse making the payments no longer be tax-deductible. As they would no longer be able to make the payments tax-free, their income would be taxed without the deduction at their current tax rate.
A Qualified Divorce Attorney is Vital
If you find yourself facing a divorce, then the best legal advice you’ll receive is to find a great attorney. An uncontested divorce is great, but when this isn’t possible you want to make sure you have an experienced and qualified family law lawyer in your corner. If you’re divorcing or ending your common law marriage, you want someone looking out for your rights. This is true even if you have a prenuptial agreement or a postnuptial agreement. Sometimes it is not possible to settle everything in divorce mediation.
Reach out to the law offices of The Jimenez Law Firm if you are considering a divorce in Texas. We have offices in West Texas and North Texas. Find us online or call one of our offices today for a consultation.