What Is Alimony?
When a married couple files for divorce, one spouse may choose to seek financial support from the other as part of the divorce settlement. If the request is successful, the support-seeking spouse will be awarded regular monetary payments known as alimony.
These payments are designed to allow the support-seeking spouse to maintain their ability to pay for reasonable and necessary living expenses. Payment can begin while the divorce is pending or when it’s finalized.
If you’re planning to file for divorce and want to seek support or believe that your spouse will, it’s important to build a general understanding of what alimony is and how spousal maintenance works. Read on for a quick overview of alimony basics that every divorce-seeking spouse should know about.
Court-Ordered Spousal Maintenance vs. Contractual Alimony: What’s the Difference?
Alimony and spousal support both refer to payments made from the higher-earning ex-spouse to the lower-earning ex-spouse. But they’re not quite the same thing.
Contractual alimony essentially allows both parties to agree to the terms and maintenance timeline of their choosing. Payments could be in any amount (even greater than statutory limits) and for any length of time.
Court-ordered spousal support, on the other hand, typically awards payments that are much more limited in scope.
Who Can Request Alimony?
Either party involved in the divorce can seek alimony. However, that party must prove that spousal support payments are indeed necessary. If one party will be at a financial disadvantage after the divorce because they did not work or earned less than the other spouse, alimony may be sought.
While Texas courts cannot award alimony to a spouse who’s not eligible for it, it’s also possible to seek alimony through a private contract developed as part of the divorce settlement.
How Does the Court Determine Who’s Eligible for Alimony?
In the State of Texas, eligibility for court-ordered spousal maintenance payments is determined by several factors. To qualify, the requesting spouse must prove that:
- The spouse from whom payments are requested was convicted of an act of family violence as defined by Texas law.
- The marriage was sustained for 10 years or more, and the requesting spouse meets one of the following conditions:
- He or she does not have the ability to provide sufficient support for minimum monthly expenses.
- He or she cannot earn sufficient income due to a physical or mental disability.
- He or she does not have job skills sufficient to earn an income in the current labor market that would cover minimum monthly needs.
- He or she cannot seek employment as the caretaker of a child who needs high-level care due to a physical or mental disability.
How Does the Court Determine How Much Alimony Someone Pays?
In many states, there are laws dictating that a financially disadvantaged ex-spouse has the right to continue living the same lifestyle they enjoyed during the marriage. Texas is not one of those states.
In Texas, when a court determines that one spouse is eligible for court-ordered payments, the amount of those payments is determined by:
- Each spouse’s resources after the divorce is finalized.
- The education and job skills of both parties.
- The length of time it would reasonably take for the disadvantaged spouse to obtain training or education to increase their earning power.
- The ability of the support-seeking spouse to meet their needs independently.
- Employment history, earning capacity, age, and physical/mental condition of the seeking spouse.
- How supplying spousal maintenance and/or child support may affect each party’s ability to pay their normal bills.
- Whether one spouse contributed to the other’s education, job training, or ability to earn increased income.
- Whether one spouse made homemaker contributions.
- Either spouse’s marital misconduct.
- Acts of family violence.
After considering the above factors, the judge will assign an award commensurate with the seeking spouse’s maintenance needs. But in Texas, there’s a cap on that award amount.
When a judge orders one spouse to make involuntary spousal maintenance payments, those payments cannot exceed $5,000 or 20% of the paying party’s gross monthly income, whichever is lower.
How Long Can Alimony Payments Last?
The length of time one spouse can receive spousal maintenance payments depends on whether the spouse is awarded court-ordered payments or a contractual alimony agreement is made.
In the case of court-ordered alimony, monthly payments will likely be limited to the shortest reasonable time frame that allows the disadvantaged spouse to earn sufficient income to support themselves (and their dependents, if applicable) independently.
But if the receiving spouse cannot earn sufficient income to provide for reasonable needs because he or she has a physical or mental disability or cares for a child, payments can last longer. In some cases, a spouse may be eligible for indefinite court-ordered payments and will need to undergo periodic reviews to determine their ongoing eligibility.
As mentioned earlier, a contractual alimony agreement allows both parties to agree to the payment duration of their choosing.
Schedule a Consultation With a DFW Divorce Attorney
Whether you wish to seek spousal maintenance or you believe your spouse will, it’s imperative that you seek the counsel of an experienced Texas divorce attorney. At Setzer Law Firm, we’ve been helping DFW clients negotiate divorces for more than 30 years, and we’re ready to fight on your behalf too.