Alimony in Texas may be necessary whenever spouses in the state call it quits in their marriage. While it is a common issue in divorce, spouses are not always entitled to alimony.

So, how does a spouse become eligible, and how is the alimony amount calculated?

This article will outline the various Texas alimony laws and guidelines and discuss the determination and calculation of spousal support.

What is Alimony?

Alimony, also known as spousal maintenance or contractual alimony, refers to money paid by one spouse for the support of the other. It is paid on top of any child support, or property division provided a judge finds that conditions allow for an alimony award. Typically, spousal maintenance is supposed to help the requesting spouse acclimatize to a new lifestyle.

In Texas, spousal support can either be contractual or court-ordered. These have significant differences, including how long they last and how much they pay. However, their main difference lies in how a spouse gets them.

Sometimes, spouses will agree to alimony terms and write a settlement agreement. In this case, a spouse is said to have received contractual alimony.

In some cases, spouses may disagree on divorce-related issues, including alimony. If one spouse believes that they deserve spousal support, they will file a petition in court requesting the judge to order alimony from their spouse. The judge may then order the other spouse to pay if they find valid reasons for awarding alimony.

Qualifying for Spousal Support in Texas

Courts determine spousal support on a case-by-case basis. To get alimony in Texas, there are various factors that courts will consider. Below are some reasons why court-ordered alimony may be justified.

– Conviction or Deferred Adjudication

Suppose the spouse from whom alimony is sought has received deferred adjudication or has been convicted for family violence against the requesting spouse or their child. In that case, the court may award alimony. This must have happened within two years of filing for divorce or during the pendency of the divorce.

– Lack of Earning Capacity

The dependent spouse doesn’t have sufficient income or property even after marriage for at least 10 years. A request for spousal support may be justified if that spouse isn’t self-sufficient and is either physically or mentally challenged or the primary caregiver of a disabled child. If the dependent spouse cannot provide for their minimum reasonable needs, then the judge will likely order alimony from the other spouse.

– Immigrant Spouse

A sponsored immigrant could enforce the Affidavit of Support executed by their spouse and request a court to order 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines provision. If granted, they could receive spousal support from their spouse until they become a U.S. citizen or earn 40 credits of work history.

Determination of Spousal Maintenance Awards in Texas

Either party can request alimony in the state of Texas during separation or divorce. Normally, the judge will make a maintenance evaluation if the dependent spouse can prove that they lack the education or training necessary to earn an income.

They must also demonstrate that they have put in the effort to acquire an education or training during the separation or divorce process in a bid to become financially independent.

If the court decides to proceed with a spousal maintenance evaluation, it will consider the following factors to determine the nature, duration, amount, and payment method of Texas alimony:

  • Each spouse’s financial resources available after property division
  • The education level and employability of both spouses
  • The time and resources needed for a spouse to acquire education or training to enable them to acquire a job and become financially self-sufficient
  • The availability and feasibility of such education or training
  • The ability of each spouse to provide for the basic needs of the other
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age, earning ability, employment history, emotional and physical health of the requesting spouse
  • If there are minor children involved, the payor’s ability to meet the other spouse’s needs while making child support payments
  • The contribution of a spouse to the other’s education, training, or increased earning ability during the marriage
  • The property each spouse brought into the marriage
  • The contribution of a spouse as a homemaker
  • The concealment, destruction, or fraudulent disposition of any joint tenancy, community property, or other property held in common
  • Misconduct by either spouse during marriage, including adultery or cruel treatment
  • Any record of family violence

Duration of Spousal Support Orders in Texas

Alimony laws in Texas require that judges adhere to strict guidelines when deciding the duration of alimony awards. Typically, a judge will almost always order spousal support due to a mental or physical disability, parenting duties of a custodial parent of a minor child, or any other compelling reason.

In such cases, maintenance can continue indefinitely, provided the conditions exist. However, there may be periodic reviews of the support order by the court in the future.

Texas law limits all other alimony orders to the following:

  • Five years, if the marriage lasted less than 10 years and the payor was convicted of family violence
  • Five years, if the marriage lasted more than 10 years but less than 20 years
  • Seven years, if the marriage lasted more than 20 years but less than 30 years
  • 10 years, if the marriage lasted at least 30 or more years

If the requesting spouse isn’t the custodial parent or physically or mentally disabled, Texas law provides that judges should order alimony for the shortest reasonable duration. In cases where there is a significant difference in the incomes of spouses, a judge may order temporary support. This is awarded while the final divorce judgment is pending and is meant to help the requesting spouse adjust their lifestyle.

Amount of Spousal Support and Method of Payment

Texas alimony awards are capped, unlike in other states. Spousal support awards may not exceed $5,000 per month or 20 percent of the supporting spouse’s average monthly income, whichever is less. Mostly, judges in the state will order monthly payments of spousal support.

If alimony is awarded, it is unlikely that the obligor will make payments directly to the requesting spouse. The court enters an order directing the obligor’s employer to withhold a portion of their employee’s income and remit it to the requesting spouse.

Enforcing Spousal Maintenance in Texas

At the end of divorce proceedings, the judge issues a final judgment regarding divorce-related issues, including spousal support. A court order issued by a judge legally obligates spouses to act in compliance with the terms. However, it is not uncommon for supporting spouses to ignore such orders and skip alimony payments.

If the obligor fails or refuses to comply with court orders regarding spousal maintenance, the court may enforce its orders in various ways.

Some of the most common include:

– Income Withholding

Enforcement of a court order depends on whether the award in question was court-ordered or contractual alimony. In Texas, spousal maintenance ordered by the court lasts for a finite period.

Under Texas Family Code, a court may enforce spousal maintenance by issuing an order to withhold the disposable earnings of the obligor. However, such withholding is restricted to the amount and period of the court-ordered spousal support.

Sometimes, spouses will include the terms of contractual alimony in their divorce settlement agreement. If a judge approves the agreement and signs it into a court order, then the order becomes enforceable. Contractual alimony obligations can only be enforced through court-ordered income withholding if the contract explicitly states so and if the alimony payments are not made per the contract.

– Liens on Property and Assets

The requesting spouse can petition the court to put a lien on the other spouse’s real property or even bank accounts. Such liens can be extremely unpleasant, especially when the obligor can’t close a transaction due to such limitations. You can think of property liens as insurance policies – even if the obligor doesn’t make support payments, the lien will hunt them down.

If the obligor is the legal owner of property or assets, getting a lien is an effective way of ensuring that they make any overdue payments. Attaching liens to assets and property means that the obligor can’t transfer the title of the property until delinquent payments are made.

Similarly, liens on bank accounts mean that the accounts are frozen, and the obligor can’t withdraw funds for some time. Liens can only be extinguished if the obligor satisfies the court’s judgment. That means they can only have full access to their property after making all the overdue spousal support payments.

– Contempt of Court

Enforcement of spousal support can only be done through a contempt charge on limited occasions. Typically, court-ordered maintenance may be enforced by contempt against the obligor. An agreement for periodic payments of spousal support voluntarily entered into by both spouses may also be enforced by court contempt, provided the agreement was approved by the court.

Contractual alimony that exceeds the amount of periodic support that the court could have ordered under Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code may not be enforced by contempt. Also, a spousal support agreement where the period of payment exceeds what the court would have ordered is not enforceable by contempt.

If the court finds you in contempt, you can be fined or jailed.

However, the obligor has affirmative defenses to an allegation of contempt if they can prove that they:

  • Lacked the financial ability to provide spousal maintenance in the amount ordered
  • Lacked real property that could be sold, mortgaged, or pledged to raise the maintenance amount
  • Tried unsuccessfully to borrow the money to pay spousal maintenance
  • Did not have information about a source from which money could have been borrowed or legally obtained

Overpayment of Alimony in Texas

Instances of overpayment upon the termination of the maintenance obligation of the paying spouse are not uncommon. If maintenance payment exceeds what the court ordered or approved, the obligee must return to the obligor any surplus amount. This should be the case regardless of whether the payment was made before, on, or after the termination date.

An obligor may sue the obligee to recover overpaid maintenance. If the court establishes that the obligee failed or refused to return overpaid maintenance, it may order the obligee to pay the obligor’s lawyer fees and court costs in addition to the surplus maintenance.

Termination and Modification of an Alimony Order

The obligation to pay future spousal support legally ends upon the death of either party or when the obligee remarries. The court may also order the termination of the support obligation if cohabitation can be proven.

If the obligee has a romantic relationship or cohabits with a non-relative person in a permanent place of residence on a continuing basis, then the judge will terminate the support obligation.

A Texas spousal support order may also be modified by filing a motion in the court that gave the order. The party seeking to modify the maintenance must give the other party a notice of a motion to modify alimony by service of citation.

The other spouse must file an answer within a specified period before proceeding to a hearing. A court shall then set a hearing on the motion per the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

Both parties will present evidence as to why the maintenance amount should be decreased or maintained during the hearing. In Texas, the standard of evidence is that a spouse must show that there has been a substantial and material change of circumstances.

The change could have occurred in their life or that of their ex-spouse. The court makes a comparison of the financial circumstances of both parties then and now to decide whether or not to modify the maintenance amount.

Conclusion

Alimony is one of the several divorce-related issues that spouses may go through when severing their marriage.

Here are the main things to remember about alimony in Texas:

  • Alimony can be agreed upon by spouses or ordered by a court
  • An alimony award depends on the ability of the requesting spouse to meet their basic financial needs and the other spouse’s ability to pay
  • In Texas, maintenance awards may not exceed $5,000 per month or 20 percent of the obligor’s average monthly income
  • Alimony obligation terminates upon the death of either spouse or with the continuous cohabitation of the supported spouse

Divorcing or separating spouses isn’t always entitled to alimony. Unless spouses agree to alimony terms, a court will consider various factors to establish whether a spouse qualifies for alimony. If awarded, the maintenance amount can be modified with material and significant change of circumstances.

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