How is Spousal Maintenance Decided and Calculated in Texas?
Spousal maintenance, also called spousal support or alimony, is either agreed upon by both parties or ordered by the court, depending on the circumstances of the marriage and consideration of various factors. It is not something that's guaranteed or automatically granted in a divorce. While the divorce is in process and after the divorce is finalized, either spouse can request temporary spousal support if they need financial assistance, but this is subject to certain time limits.
Four ways to get spousal maintenance in Texas
If you have a mutual agreement
This means both parties agree to a spousal maintenance plan for a certain period of time. Usually, the court honors these agreements subject to the prove-up hearing.
If there was a family violence conviction
If the spouse you're requesting support from was convicted of an act of family violence against the other spouse or their children, you may be granted spousal maintenance if the conviction happened within two years of the divorce filing or while the divorce is pending. The length of the marriage would not be a relevant consideration in this instance.
If you have been married 10 years or more
Spousal maintenance may be granted if you were married for at least 10 years, but there are other conditions, too. The support-seeking spouse also can't have sufficient property or income to provide for their basic needs, and they are either living with a disability; the primary caretaker for a child with a disability; or unable to earn enough to provide for their basic needs.
If your spouse is a sponsored immigrant
In this case, the sponsored immigrant spouse could enforce the Affidavit of Support that was signed by the other spouse at the time of sponsorship. The immigrant spouse can then ask the court to order the sponsoring spouse to provide them with money in the form of 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. This would be in effect until the immigrant spouse becomes a U.S. citizen or the immigrant spouse has earned 40 credits of work history.
What does the court consider when deciding on spousal maintenance?
The court considers many factors when deciding whether the spouse requesting support meets the required thresholds. The standard here is "lacking earning ability to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs." Some of the factors the court looks at are:
- The length of the marriage
- The spouses' health and age
- How the spouses treated each other during the course of the marriage
- What financial resources each party has once the property has been divided
- Both spouses' education levels and employment skills
- How much time it would take the spouse requesting support to get education or training to earn a reasonable living
- The availability, and reasonable feasibility, of obtaining and going through the relevant training
- Any other factors considered the court thinks are important
A spouse cannot request support without also providing proof of the fact that they have been doing their best to find employment, training, and educational opportunities. However, this requirement for trying to locate work/work-related opportunities does not apply in the case of immigrant spouses where the Affidavit of Support is in fact being enforced during the divorce process.
How long can you receive spousal support maintenance?
There is typically a time limit on how long spousal maintenance payments last, except in special circumstances, like if the spouse requesting support would be unable to earn enough to provide for their basic needs because of a disability or being the caretaker of a child living with a disability. Otherwise, spousal maintenance generally has specified limits: up to 5 years, up to 7 years, or up to 10 years. The caps are largely determined by the length of the marriage.
Spousal maintenance for up to 5 years:
- If the spousal maintenance was granted due to a family violence conviction (within two years of the filing of the Petition for Divorce OR during the divorce process)
- If the marriage lasted for at least 10 years, but less than 20 years
Spousal maintenance for up to 7 years:
- If the marriage lasted for at least 20 years, but less than 30 years
Spousal maintenance for up to 10 years:
- If the marriage lasted for at least 30 years or more
Generally speaking, court-ordered spousal maintenance is limited to the shortest reasonable period of time until the receiving spouse can be expected to earn enough to provide for their basic needs, within the limits stated above.
Other reasons spousal maintenance can end
Besides the court-ordered time limits, spousal maintenance may also be terminated due to the following circumstances:
- If either the paying spouse or the receiving spouse dies
- The receiving spouse remarries
- When there is sufficient evidence provided to prove to the judge that the receiving spouse has been living consistently with a romantic partner
How is spousal maintenance calculated?
In Texas, the amount a spouse can be ordered to pay cannot be higher than $5,000/month OR 20% of the paying spouse's average gross monthly income, whichever of the two amounts is lower.
Adjustments to spousal maintenance
During the time spousal maintenance is being paid, either party can go to the court to file a motion asking for the amount to be adjusted. The party filing the motion has to demonstrate a material and substantial change in circumstances to warrant the adjustment of the spousal maintenance amount. Adjustments are granted at the discretion of the court.
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