In Texas alimony is called spousal support and it may be that you and your spouse have reached an agreement on whether or not one spouse receives a payment for their support during or after divorce. If you haven't reached an agreement with your spouse then court intervention is likely necessary to obtain the maintenance or "alimony" that you think that you are entitled to.
Not every spouse is eligible to receive spousal support.
To be eligible for spousal maintenance under Sections 8.051 of the Texas Family Code certain requirements must be met. Absent family violence, an incapacitating mental or physical disability of a spouse seeking maintenance, or a disabled child of the marriage under the care of the spouse seeking maintenance that inhibits that spouse from earning sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs, you will need to show that the marriage lasted for at least 10 years. Further, to get this additional financial assistance from your spouse all of those seeking maintenance will need to show that after the division of the community estate, and any confirmation of separate property, that the spouse seeking maintenance will not have sufficient property to meet their minimum reasonable needs.
If you are eligible for spousal maintenance then their are other things for the court to consider.
A court doesn't award spousal support in a "willy nilly" sort of fashion, it is a serious matter and can lead to jail time if it is not paid on time and in the manner prescribed. For that reason, after determining eligibility, a court will consider whether an award of spousal support is appropriate given the specific circumstances, how much should be paid, how long should it be paid, and in what way it should be paid. The Texas Family Code is clear regarding the factors to be determined when awarding spousal maintenance, Section 8.052 of the Texas Family Code is as follows:
"Sec. 8.052. FACTORS IN DETERMINING MAINTENANCE. A court that determines that a spouse is eligible to receive maintenance under this chapter shall determine the nature, amount, duration, and manner of periodic payments by considering all relevant factors, including:
(1) each spouse's ability to provide for that spouse's minimum reasonable needs independently, considering that spouse's financial resources on dissolution of the marriage;
(2) the education and employment skills of the spouses, the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking maintenance to earn sufficient income, and the availability and feasibility of that education or training;
(3) the duration of the marriage;
(4) the age, employment history, earning ability, and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;
(5) the effect on each spouse's ability to provide for that spouse's minimum reasonable needs while providing periodic child support payments or maintenance, if applicable;
(6) acts by either spouse resulting in excessive or abnormal expenditures or destruction, concealment, or fraudulent disposition of community property, joint tenancy, or other property held in common;
(7) the contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse;
(8) the property brought to the marriage by either spouse;
(9) the contribution of a spouse as homemaker;
(10) marital misconduct, including adultery and cruel treatment, by either spouse during the marriage; and
(11) any history or pattern of family violence, as defined by Section 71.004."
A spouse cannot sit idle and expect to rely on spousal support.
Under Texas Family Code Section 8.053 there is a rebuttable presumption, meaning that you have to prove otherwise, that spousal support is not warranted if a spouse has not exercised due diligence in earning sufficient income to provide for the spouse's minimum reasonable needs; or developing the necessary skills to provide for the spouse's minimum reasonable needs during a period of separation and during the time the suit for dissolution of the marriage is pending. It is important to have a qualified lawyer help you try to overcome this presumption as presumptions can be tricky and a qualified family lawyer's expertise is needed.
Don't expect spousal support to last forever.
There are specific rules set out by the Texas legislature regarding how long spousal support can be ordered. With some exceptions, spousal support cannot be ordered to be paid for more than 5 years if the marriage lasted between 10 and 20 years; 7 years if the marriage lasted for 20-30 years; and 10 years if the marriage was 30 or more years. In general, a court is required to limit an order of spousal support to the shortest reasonable period which allows the receiving spouse to be able to earn sufficient income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs. There are important exceptions, a physical or mental disability of the receiving spouse to name one, to this rule and you should consult a qualified divorce lawyer to evaluate your specific circumstances.
There is a limit on the amount of spousal support that a court can order.
Section 8.055 of the Texas Family Code states that a court may not order an obligor (person paying) to pay more than the lesser of $5000 or 20 percent of the spouse's average monthly gross income. Determining a spouse's gross income is not always as easy as it sounds and there is a long list of items in the Family Code that qualify as part of an obligor's gross income to calculate the amount of spousal maintenance to be paid. It is wise to enlist the help of an experienced divorce attorney to do the research and gather the relevant documents necessary in determining how much spousal maintenance to ask a court for.
A court will consider various factors to decide how much spousal maintenance to award.
As you have probably figured out after reading this, Texas family law courts are very methodical in determining matters related to spousal maintenance. Some of the factors they consider when deciding how much to award are the financial resources of each spouse, including separate property, the contribution of one spouse to the other’s education or training, the age, and earning capacity of the spouses, the burden that paying child support or spousal maintenance places on the spouses’ ability to pay necessary bills, how long it would take for the requesting spouse to get relevant education or training to meet their needs, whether there has been wrongful wasting of community funds, marital misconduct, such as adultery by either spouse, the physical and/or emotional state of the requesting spouse, and of course family violence. This is not an exhaustive list and each case is different so if you believe that you need spousal maintenance or think that you may be required to pay it, then contact a competent divorce law attorney to help you evaluate your specific set of facts.
Sometimes you need money and you need it now.
If you are in a divorce situation in which you are in dire straights and need financial assistance in the immediate then that is a possibility and that is not as difficult to obtain from a court given Texas laws regarding community property and spouses' duty to support one another. Usually, an award of temporary spousal support will be obtained in a temporary orders hearing or through an out-of-court temporary settlement process. If you are going through this set of circumstances then I strongly suggest you speak with qualified counsel to advise you on the best way to make sure your needs are met.
Chad Zubi Houston Family and Criminal Law Attorney.