An introduction to the Lone Star State’s unique spousal maintenance laws

Alimony in Texas is relatively limited in availability.

When a marriage ends, one party is usually at an economic disadvantage, often because of having had different marital roles. Often one stayed home to care for children and home, freeing the other to pursue career interests and provide financial support for the family.

Traditionally, Americans presume that at the end of such a marriage, the breadwinner would be ordered to pay alimony or spousal maintenance to support the economically disadvantaged ex-spouse. However, the Texas legislature has crafted a spousal maintenance system that makes the circumstances in which support is ordered fairly narrow as compared with many other states.

Divorcing parties can negotiate an agreement or contract governing alimony. Otherwise, the judge in the divorce proceeding will decide whether maintenance is allowed and the award's size and duration.

First, the court must look at the property each will have after the property division in the divorce as well as the separate property of either. If each will be able to meet his or her own "minimum reasonable needs," neither will be eligible for maintenance. By contrast, some other states consider potentially higher living standards than minimum reasonable needs such as whether each ex-spouse would be able to live at the same standard of living they had during marriage if alimony evened the playing field.

If one spouse will be unable to meet minimum reasonable needs, to be eligible one of these must also be true:

  • The spouse who would pay alimony was convicted of or received deferred adjudication for a crime of family violence against the other or against the victim's child since the divorce was filed or within two years before that.
  • An incapacitating disability prevents the recipient from meeting minimum reasonable needs.
  • The marriage lasted at least 10 years and the recipient is unable to earn enough money to meet minimum reasonable needs. In this situation, a rebuttable presumption exists that the recipient should not get alimony unless he or she has diligently tried to earn enough or develop the skills to do so since separating and since the divorce was filed.
  • The recipient cannot work enough to meet minimum reasonable needs because he or she will substantially care and supervise a disabled child of the marriage of any age.

If a spouse is eligible, in crafting the award the judge must look at all relevant factors, including these 11:

  • Each spouse's ability to meet his or her needs
  • Each spouse's educational and work skills, how long it would take to get the education or training needed to earn sufficient income and whether that training is feasible
  • Marriage length
  • Recipient's age, work history, earning ability and health
  • Child support or other maintenance obligations
  • Spousal destruction, wasting or hiding of assets
  • Contribution by one to the other's professional development
  • Property brought into the marriage by either
  • Homemaker contributions
  • Marital misconduct by either, including adultery and cruelty
  • Family violence

Specific limits on alimony duration are set out in statute depending on the length of the marriage, with the longest period allowed being 10 years, except when the recipient is unable to provide for him or herself because of disability, child care responsibilities or another "compelling impediment."

The court may not order monthly payments of more than the lesser of one-fifth of the payor's average monthly gross income or $5,000.

Texas alimony laws are extremely complex. Anyone facing divorce should seek legal counsel.

Dallas family lawyer Lisa McKnight of Lisa E. McKnight, P.C., represents clients in divorce throughout the Dallas metropolitan area.