Spousal Maintenance And Your Marriage

Woman holding envelope with money for spousal support.
Find out how spousal maintenance is decided by Texas courts.

How is Spousal Maintenance Decided?

Spousal maintenance after marriage isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. These days, spousal maintenance is not always an automatic part of a divorce. There are a variety of factors that determine if you’re obligated to pay or receive spousal maintenance.

The staff at S+L knows how volatile your finances can be in the wake of a divorce. For most people, every dime counts, and the stress of not knowing your financial obligations creates a cloud of uncertainty. We will help to talk you through your options in your case and advocate for your best interests.

What Determines If A Spouse Gets Alimony?

Alimony, or spousal maintenance, is a payment of money to one spouse ordered by the court after your marriage ends. Often, the non-working spouse or the spouse who made less money will seek alimony. The amount of alimony required can vary depending on the length of the marriage and the difference in income between you and your spouse. The factors considered are different from those for child support.

The purpose of spousal support is to help one spouse to support themselves and provide for their needs and expenses until they can become financially independent. The marital property might not be sufficient for one spouse’s needs. They might not be able to support themselves after the divorce, especially if they have given up a career or job to support the family.

Generally, spousal support is a temporary arrangement. The judge will consider the education or training needed by the recipient to become financially independent. However, the family law court can award permanent support payments in some cases. A common example is if you and your spouse are older and were a married couple for a long time before the divorce.

The judge can award spousal maintenance after marriage in the following scenarios:

  • The spouses come to an agreement that spousal maintenance should be paid for a certain period of time for financial support
  • The length of the marriage was at least 10 years, you or your ex do not have enough income to reasonably provide for your needs, and you have no earning ability or have a disability. You may also be caring for a disabled child
  • One spouse has received deferred adjudication or a conviction for family violence against the other spouse or the children within 24 months of the divorce

Spousal Maintenance In Texas

Texas state law does not state a formula for the judge to determine the amount of alimony to award. However, the court calculates the amount of spousal maintenance after considering many factors, including:

  • Your financial situations
  • The length of your marriage
  • The current difference in income between spouses
  • The receiving spouse’s employment capacity
  • The payor spouse’s ability to support themselves and provide spousal payments
  • Division of property
  • Education levels during the marriage and at the time of divorce
  • The lifestyle of the couple during marriage
  • Education, training, time, and money needed for the receiving spouse to reach the standard of living comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage
  • Age of the couple
  • Physical and mental health
  • Tax consequences

The court may also consider marital misconduct –– like infidelity or abuse –– when figuring out a spouse’s eligibility for maintenance. In most cases, spousal maintenance after marriage does not last indefinitely. The court may instead order temporary support, in which one spouse pays the other for a short time while he or she works to gain financial independence.

You and your spouse may arrive at an agreement on spousal maintenance without a court order. Even if you decide to negotiate with your spouse, the sound legal advice of an experienced family law attorney may protect you from a risky settlement.

Texas law states that the party ordered to pay alimony cannot be required to pay more than $5,000 or 20% of their gross monthly income, whichever is less. Changes to federal law now require that the payor spouse pay taxes on spousal support payments. Previously, the recipient spouse would have to count alimony payments as taxable income on federal tax returns. It’s important to get the help of an experienced attorney who understands the tax implications of spousal support payments.

Termination Of Spousal Support

The divorce decree typically states when the spousal support will terminate. However, if there is no termination date specified, you or your spouse would have to continue making spousal maintenance payments until the court orders otherwise.

There are some situations when the judge may determine that there is no further need for spousal support to be awarded. These include:

  • The receiving party remarries
  • The receiving party cohabitates with a new person with whom they have a romantic relationship
  • Either spouse passes away
  • A significant event occurs, such as the recipient spouse getting a new job that pays well

Texas law does specify the maximum duration on how long alimony should be paid. However, these limits do not apply in a case where disability, child support, or other circumstances are involved that require long term support.

The limits are:

  • 5 years, for marriages that lasted at least 10 years but less than 20 years or in cases where a spouse was convicted or received deferred adjudication for family violence within 24 months of the divorce
  • 7 years, for marriages that lasted at least 20 years but less than 30 years
  • 10 years, for marriages that lasted at least 30 years

How Does The Length Of A Marriage Affect Spousal Support?

If your marriage lasted under 5 years, the court will seek to put you and your spouse back to the economic positions you and your ex had before the marriage when deciding to order alimony payments. If you were legally married for at least 25 years, the judge will look to place both of you in roughly equal economic positions for the rest of your lives.

For marriages between 5 to 25 years, the judge will look at other factors such as the need of either spouse and the earning capacity of the parties.

The length of the marriage also affects the maximum duration of alimony.

Does The Wife Pay Alimony To The Husband?

The judge may order the wife to pay alimony to the husband in certain situations. The wife may earn significantly more income or the husband may be the one taking care of the children. While most alimony awards in the past were by husbands to wives when husbands were the traditional breadwinners, husbands are increasingly being awarded spousal support from their ex-wives where there is a need.

Another Way We Are Looking Out For You

While you struggle to keep your finances in order, you certainly don’t want the added burden of a crushing legal bill for your divorce. At Sabelhaus + Lynch, we understand this reality, so we will never surprise you with an inflated bill. We base our fees solely on the services we provide. We do not charge an hourly rate or bill you for emails or calls. The attorney-client relationship is important to us and we advocate for your rights.

Contact our Fort Worth offices to speak with an attorney who cares about your outcome. Call 817-668-5879 or email us. Your first 30-minute consultation is at no cost.