When it comes to divorce, a truly clean break is difficult to come by. In reality is, the longer you’ve been together, the harder it will be to completely sever ties with your partner. This is especially true in terms of financial obligation. If you have children, you’re likely already expecting to make child support payments, but did you know there could be more? In some cases, a judge might also require you to pay spousal maintenance—a concept many people aren’t quite as familiar with.
Spousal maintenance (otherwise known as “spousal support,” or “alimony”) is money paid by the higher-earning spouse to the lower, and is meant to offset any economic imbalance caused by divorce. In many cases, these payments are ordered when a homemaker spouse needs help getting back into the workforce, but there are other instances when it might also be warranted. Spousal maintenance is contingent on a myriad of individualized factors and is not necessarily a guarantee in Texas.
Here are some things to keep in mind about spousal maintenance in Texas, and how it could affect the bottom line in your divorce.
Qualifying for Spousal Maintenance in Texas
In many states, the laws governing spousal maintenance are somewhat vague, and the decision of whether or not to assign payouts—including the amount—is left largely in the hands of how your judge feels about each, particular case. Texas, however, is not so imprecise. While couples are always free to reach their own agreement regarding alimony, a judge cannot make a mandatory order of support unless certain eligibility requirements are met.
Who is Eligible?
According to the Texas Family Code, the spouse making the alimony demands must first show that they can’t support their own basic needs without help. In addition, at least one of the following circumstances must exist:
If any of these situations sound familiar, Neal Ashmore can help you analyze whether a demand for spousal maintenance is likely to be successful.
Spousal Maintenance Amounts
Since spousal maintenance hinges completely on individual need, the payment amounts will be as varied as the individuals who are seeking relief. When calculating what might be appropriate for you, the court will look at a number of factors, including:
- How long the marriage lasted;
- Child support, and the level of care required by dependent children;
- Any fraud or concealment of community property by either spouse;
- The age of both parties;
- The education and professional skills of both parties (including the training and time it would take to get the supported spouse financially independent);
- Whether or not the supported spouse helped with the other’s education and career;
- Any homemaker contributions; as well as,
- Separate property that was brought into the marriage.
Since Texas is one of the few states that still allows for fault-based divorces, judges are also free to analyze whether or not fault contributed to the marital breakdown. These days, it’s common for fault to wear the face of adultery, however, things like cruelty, neglect, impotence, and even insanity could trigger fault.
If fault is something you’re considering for your divorce, a Neal Ashmore attorney can discuss the pros and cons with you. While fault can be difficult and costly to prove, it does have the potential to swing a community property split in your favor, so in certain situations, it may be worth the effort to pursue.
Spousal Maintenance Has Its Limits
While alimony amounts will inevitably vary between couples, the court is required to award within limitations, and Texas law puts a cap on spousal maintenance. According to the Texas Family Code, monthly payments cannot exceed $5,000 or twenty percent of the supporting spouse’s average monthly gross income—whichever is less.
Duration of Spousal Maintenance in Texas
Spousal maintenance is almost never ordered for life, and how long it applies to you, post-divorce will depend on why it was awarded in the first place. For example, if it was given because of a dependent child with a mental or physical handicap, it may last as long as the conditions persist. In other situations, it could be limited based on how long you were married.
For a more accurate estimate of how long payments might last for you, contact your Neal Ashmore attorney with the specifics of your situation.
Failure to Pay Spousal Maintenance in Texas
While you may not like your ex, or agree with the outcome, an order of spousal maintenance is mandatory. If a judge makes alimony a part of your final divorce order, it’s important you abide by its terms. Failure to make payments could prompt the court to issue an income withholding order on your employer. This would require them to garnish the required amount from your wages before giving you your take-home pay.
In extreme circumstances, failure to pay can also get you charged with contempt of court. Contempt is a criminal offense with its own fines and jail time attached. While it’s rare for Texas to incarcerate someone for not paying spousal maintenance, it’s definitely within the realm of possibility with contempt, so these charges aren’t something you should take lightly.
Life Changes and Hardship
On the flip side, if there is a legitimate life change making it difficult for you to fulfill your obligations, contact your attorney immediately. Judges understand that these things happen, and often an alternative arrangement can be reached with your spouse. However, these changes usually can’t be applied retroactively, so it’s important to act fast to avoid unnecessary back payments.
Spousal Maintenance Attorneys in Texas
At Neal Ashmore, we understand that spousal maintenance can be stressful—no matter which side of the argument you’re on. And with our legacy of excellence in family law, our attorneys are well-equipped to handle any angle that these issues might present in your unique situation.
If you have further questions about how spousal maintenance might apply to your divorce, call us today at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online. In dealing with these matters, you want an advocate who will fight tirelessly for your interests, while preparing you for every possible outcome, which is why we hope you’ll trust us.