Spousal Maintenance, which is also known as “alimony” or “spousal support,” refers to any financial support that one spouse gives to another during the divorce proceedings, and after the divorce is finalized. Spousal maintenance is intended to provide support for a spouse for a limited period of time while that spouse is able to become more financially stable.
There are generally three issues that come up in spousal maintenance claims: 1) how much to pay, 2) how long it needs to be paid, and 3) who pays the alimony.Eligibility for Spousal Maintenance
1) The spouse must be unable to provide for his or her minimum living needs (after the divorce is finalized) to be eligible for spousal support.
2) The spouse must have insufficient property to provide for her basic and minimal needs;
3) The Spouse must show that the parties have been married at least for 10 years. The ten- year period is measured from the date of marriage to the date of trial.
The following scenarios may also make a spouse eligible for spousal support:
- If the respondent (spouse) is convicted of a criminal act or family violence as defined by Texas law either during the marriage (within two years before the divorce was filed), or while the divorce proceedings were pending;
- If the petitioner has been married to respondent for at least ten years, and/or is not able to earn sufficient income because of:
- A mental or physical disability;
- Caring for a child with special physical or mental needs.
Keep in mind that eligibility of alimony does not automatically mean receiving it. Once a court has determined that the spouse is eligible for alimony, the next step is determining what amount of alimony is appropriate. This is determined by taking into account a combination of different factors, such as income, career, employment history, educational background, duties and responsibilities toward the children (if any), property and assets owned, and other socio-economic factors.
After taking all these factors into account, the court can decide how much spousal support should be paid. The maximum amount that a court can order a respondent to pay is $5000 per month, or 20% of the respondent’s average monthly gross income. However, this rule only applies to spousal maintenance paid by the respondent once a divorce is finalized. A court can award other spousal support terms during divorce proceedings.
The length or duration of the spousal support is decided depending on how long the couple has been married. If the couple has been married for less than 10 years and the petitioner has shown eligibility, the spousal support will last up to 5 years. The 5-year cap is also applicable for marriages that have lasted for more than 10 years, but less than 20 years. For marriages that have lasted for at least 20 years, but less than 30 years, the maximum cap for spousal support is 7 years. For marriages that have lasted for more than 30 years, the maximum capfor spousal support is 10 years. Spousal Support can last indefinitely if the criteria for eligibility is met, however.
It is important to note that there is a presumption that award of maintenance based on a ten- year marriage is not warranted unless the spouse requesting the support establishes that he or she has exercised due diligence in working towards providing for minimum needs.Contractual Spousal Support
In addition to spousal support based on length of marriage (for those who are eligible), spousal support can also be set contractually — the parties may agree on their own to specify a certain amount to be paid monthly for contractual spousal support. Contractual spousal support can be a good option because it has some tax benefits for the paying spouse.
When it comes to contractual agreements, it is imperative that an experienced lawyer be involved in the drafting and negotiating of the various complex issues involved. At Lyttle Law Firm, divorce attorney Daniella Lyttle is well-versed in spousal maintenance laws in Texas and will strive to draft and negotiate for you a spousal support agreement that will take care of you and your responsibilities.