Alimony is known as spousal maintenance in Texas, and judges only award it when certain eligibility requirements are met. Couples who would prefer to decide these matters for themselves can do so by drafting prenuptial or postnuptial agreements that contain alimony provisions. Either spouse can petition the court for spousal maintenance in the Lone Star State, but the paying spouse cannot be ordered to pay an amount that is higher than 20% of their average monthly income before taxes. In addition to specifying the eligibility requirements for alimony, Texas law caps spousal maintenance payments at $5,000 per month.
Who qualifies for spousal maintenance?
Family law judges only award spousal maintenance to spouses who can establish that they do not have enough income or property to cover their basic living expenses. A petitioning spouse must also demonstrate that their situation meets one of the following circumstances:
• The paying spouse was convicted of committing an act of domestic violence within two years of the divorce filing or during the course of the divorce.
• The petitioning spouse is unable to provide for themselves because of a mental or physical disability.
• The petitioning spouse was married for 10 years or longer and is not able to earn enough to cover their living expenses.
• The petitioning spouse is unable to cope financially because they care for a child with a mental or physical disability.
The duration of spousal maintenance
When petitioning spouses are disabled or care for a disabled child, spousal maintenance can be indefinite in Texas. In other situations, the length of time that spousal maintenance must be paid is determined by the length of the marriage. Judges may order spousal maintenance to be paid for up to five years if the couple was married for between 10 and 20 years or if the marriage lasted less than 10 years but the paying spouse was convicted of domestic violence. Petitioning spouses who were married for between 20 and 30 years can receive spousal maintenance for up to seven years. Spouses who divorce after 30 or more years of marriage can receive spousal maintenance for up to 10 years.
Experienced family law attorneys could suggest that couples who wish to avoid legal battles over property division and spousal maintenance enter into prenuptial agreements. However, attorneys could point out that these agreements may be unenforceable if they were negotiated in bad faith, were entered into under duress or their provisions are grossly unfair.