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New Alimony Laws

In September 2011 Texas alimony laws changed dramatically.  In the past, alimony (often called spousal maintenance in Texas) was very restrictive.  To qualify for alimony a couple had to be married more than ten years, and the maximum payment was $2,500 a month.  Payments were only allowed for three years.  The old laws could penalize the spouse who had dedicated their married life to raising children and other homemaking responsibilities.  

Spousal Maintenance Changes

Texas’ new alimony law takes a much fairer and more balanced approach.  Even so, there are restrictions as to who can collect spousal maintenance, how much, and for how long.  Texas Family Code section 8.051, et seq, lists the new alimony requirements.  One should also keep in mind that spousal maintenance or alimony in Texas is never automatic.  A judge can order alimony if a person meets the requirements of the Texas Family Code, but it is not guaranteed.  Below is a table that summarizes the changes between the old and new Texas alimony laws:

Length of Marriage (yrs) New Law Old Law
0-10 none none
   10-20     up to 5 years up to 3 years
20-30 up to 7 years up to 3 years
30 or more up to 10 years up to 3 years

Need-based Alimony Standard

The new law allows a maximum spousal support payment of $5,000 a month or 20% of a spouse’s average monthly gross income, if that amount is less.  Like the old law, spousal support or alimony in Texas is still considered need based.  It is allowed only to provide for a spouse’s “minimum reasonable needs.”  It can only be ordered when the spouse cannot earn sufficient income, and it can only be ordered for the minimum period for which it is necessary.

 If a spouse’s circumstances change, the amount or duration can be reduced or changed.  The new law also provides for exceptions for spouses who have been disabled by the other spouse and for spouses who must care for a disabled child.  Certain restrictions apply if a spouse is requesting maintenance from a spouse who has been convicted or received deferred adjudication for a criminal act of family violence.

Minimum Reasonable Needs for Suppport

Once the judge has decided that a spouse is eligible for alimony or spousal maintenance, he or she will consider other factors when determining how much support is paid, for how long, and in what way periodic payments are made.  The judge will look at each spouse’s ability to provide for their own “minimum reasonable needs,” considering what property was given to each spouse in the divorce and what property each spouse came into the marriage with.  

The judge will factor in the education and employment skills and training of the spouse requesting spousal support, and whether additional training is possible.  The judge will look at the spouse requesting support and factor in their age, job history, earning ability, and physical and emotional state.  Another factor is the ability of each spouse to meet their own “minimum reasonable needs,” along with child support payments or spousal support payments.  

If a spouse helped the other spouse to get additional education or otherwise increase their earning power, it will also be a factor.  Contributions of the spouse acting as a homemaker are a factor.  The length of the marriage, as well as acts of adultery, cruelty, and/or family violence will be considered.  Finally, the court will take into account any bad acts of either party, including fraud, hiding assets, excessive spending, or destruction of property.

Although Texas laws have come a long way toward protecting the non-wage earning spouse in a divorce, they are not guaranteed or automatic.  In fact, Texas law still presumes that spousal maintenance is not warranted, so a consultation with an experienced family law attorney is necessary.

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Amy Fearnow, J.D.


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