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An “Empire” star’s divorce and spousal maintenance issues

In celebrity divorce cases, alimony awards, referred to as spousal maintenance in Texas law, sometimes seem exorbitant. The divorce of Terrence Howard, star in the television series “Empire,” and Michelle Ghent, for example, initially ended upon agreement that Howard pay $5,800 in monthly alimony support payments. However, later he claimed he was under duress during the signing of the agreement based on threats Ghent had made to publicly disclose private photos. On that basis, the lower court disapproved of the monthly alimony award in their final judgment of divorce because they found that Howard was under duress due to the threat. Ghent, claiming error on the part of the lower court’s finding and judgment, appealed the judgment and won. The appeals court found that Howard was not under duress when he signed the agreement. Now, the lower court will be required to amend its judgment consistent with the opinion of the appeals court.

If the case had proceeded in Texas, however, the spouse requesting spousal maintenance would have been limited to only that amount of support she needed to meet her own “minimum reasonable needs.” In a suit for dissolution of marriage, spousal maintence is comprised of payments made periodically out of the future earnings of the supporting spouse. The statutory cap on monthly maintenance is $5,000, and the providing spouse, known as the obligor, may be ordered to pay the lesser of $5,000 or 20% of the obligor’s average monthly income.

In the event of a change of circumstances, an obligor may request a modification of an order for spousal maintenance. The obligator must prove a change in circumstances that meets certain statutory requirements. If met, the court may lower the spousal maintenance amount accordingly.

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