Texas spousal maintenance: An overview for those facing divorce

Marriage is not only a romantic relationship, it is also a financial arrangement. When a marriage ends in divorce, sometimes one spouse has to make payments to the other. In Texas, these payments are known officially as spousal maintenance, but may also be referred to as spousal support or alimony.

Every Texan knows that many things are a little different in the Lone Star State, and alimony follows this pattern. Texas has a number of fairly unique rules for when spousal support can be awarded, how long it will last and how large payments will be.

Alimony awards limited by Texas statute, but judges still have broad discretion

When a divorcing couple reaches a settlement agreement, they can decide whether or not alimony should be included and can tailor spousal support obligations to meet their individual needs. When an agreement cannot be reached, a Texas court will have to step in. By statute, Texas courts may only award spousal maintenance if one or more of the following applies:

• The paying spouse was convicted of a family violence offense committed against the spouse asking for maintenance or that spouse's child within the two years preceding the divorce

• The spouse seeking maintenance cannot provide for his or her own minimum reasonable needs due to physical or mental disability

• The spouse seeking maintenance cares for a child of the marriage with a physical or mental disability, preventing that spouse from working to meet his or her minimum reasonable needs

• The marriage lasted for at least 10 years and despite attempting to do so the spouse seeking maintenance is unable to earn enough to meet his or her minimum reasonable needs for any reason

Assuming one of the above applies, the court will set the amount and duration of alimony based on a number of factors, such as contributions one spouse made to the other's training, education or increased earning power during the marriage, contributions as a homemaker, excessive or abnormal expenditures of property held in common, property brought into the marriage, the length of the marriage, the time necessary for the spouse seeking maintenance to improve skills or acquire education that will enable him or her to earn a sufficient income, and any marital misconduct by either spouse.

While the court has broad discretion in making a spousal maintenance award, there are statutory limits concerning the duration and amount. The maximum duration is based on the length of the marriage (except in cases involving disability, in which case spousal support can last as long as the recipient needs it). For spouses married less than 20 years, the duration of spousal support must be no more than five years; for those whose marriage lasted between 20 and 30 years, alimony may last for no more than seven years; and, the cap is 10 years for marriages that lasted 30 or more years.

The maximum amount of alimony is the lesser of $5,000 per month, or 20 percent of the paying spouse's average monthly gross income.

Contact a Texas family law attorney to get the spousal support outcome you want

While there are many statutory limitations on spousal maintenance in Texas, the ultimate award often comes down to negotiation and the strength of your legal arguments. If you need help with alimony or any other aspect of divorce, get in touch with an experienced Texas family law attorney today to give yourself the best shot at the outcome you desire.