There’s no such thing as a simple divorce, and alimony is an issue that can cause tempers to flare. But what is alimony based on in Texas, and how do courts arrive at their decisions? After all, alimony is not just about evening out financial disparities. It’s about recognizing the financial dependencies that can arise from years of marriage.
At Balekian Hayes, PLLC, our Dallas alimony attorneys have guided many people through this complex subject. This article aims to dispel the myths surrounding alimony and provide a comprehensive overview of how the courts determine how much a spouse will pay. With this information in hand, you can better protect your interests and have a stronger chance of reaching a fair outcome.
Who Gets Alimony?
According to the Texas Family Code, either spouse can request alimony, called maintenance in Texas, during divorce proceedings. However, the mere act of requesting alimony doesn’t mean you will receive it.
Before the courts award alimony in Texas, they must first ensure that the requesting party doesn’t have sufficient property or assets at the time of the divorce to address their basic needs. In addition to this requirement, at least one of the following scenarios must apply:
- Family Violence Conviction: If the supporting spouse has been convicted of family violence targeted at the other spouse or their shared children, the courts may award alimony to the other spouse. This conviction must be either within two years of filing for divorce or during the ongoing divorce proceedings.
- Incapacitating Disability: The spouse seeking alimony has a physical or mental disability that significantly impairs their capacity to earn enough income to be self-sufficient.
- Duration of Marriage: The couple was married for ten years or longer. Additionally, the dependent spouse, despite efforts, must be unable to earn an income that meets their essential needs.
- Child Care and Disability: The spouse requesting support is the primary caregiver for a child (from the marriage) with a severe mental or physical disability. The intensity of care and personal supervision the child requires is so profound that it hinders the parent from maintaining regular employment and garnering an income.
What Do Judges Consider When Setting Alimony?
Assuming the above conditions are met, that does not necessarily mean a spouse will receive alimony. The courts will examine several factors to determine whether a spouse will receive alimony and, if so, how much. The factors the courts look at include:
- Self-Sufficiency Assessment: Courts evaluate each spouse’s ability to meet their individual, reasonable needs.
- Educational and Employment: The courts consider both spouses’ education, employment skills, and the time required for the seeking spouse to achieve financial independence.
- Marital Tenure: The length of the marriage often influences alimony decisions. The longer a marriage lasts, the more likely it is that one spouse will receive alimony.
- Comprehensive Profile: Courts analyze the age, job history, and physical and emotional well-being of the spouse requesting maintenance.
- Child Support Implications: If appropriate, the courts will examine the ability of each spouse to manage personal needs while handling child support.
- Property Handling: The courts will consider any mishandling or misallocation of shared assets by either spouse.
- Educational and Earning Boosts: If one spouse helped enhance the other’s education or earning capacity during their union, that factors into alimony decisions.
- Initial Contributions: The courts will examine the assets each spouse brought into the marriage.
- Homemaking Contributions: Each spouse’s role in homemaking and childcare is a critical factor in determining how much maintenance will be paid.
- Marital Misdeeds: Wrongdoing like adultery or cruelty within the marriage can sway alimony decisions.
- Violence Record: A history of family violence by either party is an essential factor in the court’s decision.
Are There Upper Limits for Alimony?
The Texas Family Code clearly states that the maximum allowable alimony award in any divorce case is $5,000 or 20 percent of the paying spouse’s average monthly gross income, whichever is less.
Modifying or Terminating Alimony in Texas
In Texas, alimony isn’t an endless commitment. Courts must follow specific rules when determining the duration of alimony payments. Understanding these rules can help both the paying and receiving spouse set expectations and make informed financial decisions.
Duration of Alimony Based on Marriage Length and Circumstances:
- Less than 10 Years with Family Violence: If the marriage lasted less than 10 years and the supporting spouse was convicted of family violence, alimony can last up to five years.
- 10 to 20 Years of Marriage: For marriages that spanned more than 10 years but less than 20, the alimony duration can be up to five years.
- 20 to 30 Years of Marriage: In cases where the union lasted between 20 and 30 years, the courts can award alimony for up to seven years.
- 30 Years and Above: For marriages that stretched over 30 years or more, alimony could last up to ten years.
However, there are exceptions. If a judge orders alimony due to a spouse’s physical or mental disability, responsibilities as the primary caregiver of an infant or young child from the marriage, or any other compelling reasons, the alimony might continue indefinitely. This means the support can go on as long as these conditions prevail, though the courts will order a periodic review of the alimony award in these cases.
Conditions for Early Termination of Alimony
Alimony can end before the specified end date in the court order if:
- One of the spouses passes away.
- The receiving spouse gets remarried.
- The supported spouse starts living with a third party in a romantic or dating relationship.
- The court reviews the case and issues a future order altering the terms.
Modification of Alimony
While the courts are the ultimate arbiters of alimony decisions, their decisions are not set in stone. The paying spouse can petition the courts for a modification if they can prove there’s been a “material and substantial change of circumstances” since the original order. This could be something like a significant change in income, health issues, or other major life events. However, it’s crucial for the paying spouse to pay the originally specified amount until the court officially changes the order.
Our Dallas Spousal Support Lawyers Can Protect Your Interests
At Balekian Hayes, PLLC, we pride ourselves on providing quality representation to anyone involved in a high-conflict divorce or alimony dispute, whether they’re the paying or recipient spouse. We’re here to protect your rights and interests during this difficult chapter. Call (214) 828-2800 or complete our contact form for a confidential case review.