Houston Spousal Maintenance Lawyers
Pursuing an Equitable Alimony Arrangement in Your Case
Spousal maintenance and alimony disputes are often one of the more hotly contested aspects of divorce. Whether you are a prospective spousal maintenance payor or recipient in your case, obtaining experienced legal counsel is vital. Our Houston spousal maintenance attorneys will help you pursue an equitable resolution for spousal maintenance in your case.
What Is Spousal Maintenance in Texas?
Unbeknownst to many, spousal maintenance and alimony are actually two different forms of post-divorce support to be paid by one ex-spouse to the other in Texas.
Spousal maintenance is defined by the Texas Family Code as an award in a divorce of periodic payments from the future income of one spouse for the support of the other spouse. Maintenance can be ordered by a court even if one party disagrees with the need for it. For example, a judge could order spousal maintenance such that a party must provide their ex with a certain amount of money per month, even if the person responsible for paying disagrees with the order.
However, to engage in a contractual alimony arrangement in Texas, both sides must agree on the need for alimony and enter into an alimony agreement for the court to approve.
Alimony was once deductible under the US Tax code, but the alimony tax deduction was repealed by federal legislation. As a result, contractual alimony agreements are not used as often in divorce as they were in the past. Neither alimony nor spousal maintenance are deductible.
Who Qualifies for Spousal Maintenance in Texas?
During divorce proceedings, either spouse may request spousal maintenance from the other. However, the Texas Family Code specifically limits the circumstances under which a Texas court may order spousal maintenance. A Texas court may order spousal maintenance only if the recipient spouse, upon divorce, will lack sufficient property, i.e., assets, to fulfill their basics needs, which the Texas Family Code describes as the spouse’s “minimum reasonable needs” and at least one of the circumstances below exist:
- The paying spouse has a conviction for family violence against the other spouse or their child within two years of filing for divorce or while the divorce was pending.
- The requesting spouse can't earn sufficient income to support themselves because of an incapacitating physical or mental disability.
- The couple's marriage lasted at least ten years, and the dependent spouse does not have assets nor the ability to earn an income that meets their basic (minimum reasonable) needs.
- The spouse requesting alimony is responsible for a child, including an adult child, of the marriage who requires significant care or supervision due to a physical or mental disability that prevents the parent from earning a living.
There are multiple considerations that the court may take into account in determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance. Below are the factors considered:
- The spouses’ ability to provide for their individual needs;
- Prior education and any employment skills of each spouse, and the amount of time needed to seek education or training by the supported spouse to become financially independent in the future;
- The length of the marriage;
- Age, previous employment history, earning capabilities, and physical and emotional state of the person pursuing spousal support;
- The impact of a child support order on the paying spouse’s ability to pay spousal support;
- Any assets either spouse brought into the marriage;
- Marital misconduct, such as adultery or abuse, by either person throughout the time they were married;
- Any individual spouse's contributions as a homemaker; and
- If either person contributed to their spouse's training, education, or increased earning potential during the marriage.
Variables that Affect the Award of Maintenance
Many factors affect whether alimony can or will be awarded in a divorce proceeding and how long the support will last. The following variables are just some of those factors and the reasoning for their impact:
- Disability: A spouse seeking maintenance who also has a disability may obtain an award for alimony for the duration of the disability.
- The non-breadwinning spouse's ability to find work: A judge will typically consider the spouse's employability in determining whether the court should order maintenance.
- Financial abuse or control: If either spouse has committed financial abuse by wasting, destroying or fraudulently concealing the couples’ assets, the judge must weigh whether or not such circumstances warrant either the denial or the imposition of spousal maintenance to compensate for such treatment and limitations, as well as weigh those factors in determining the amount and duration of the maintenance to be awarded.
- Premarital agreements: If a valid prenuptial agreement exists and addresses alimony, a judge will consider the deal when determining and ordering the alimony.
Although the above is not an exhaustive list of concerns and considerations a judge will weigh when awarding alimony, it provides examples of the variance in issues analyzed by a judge. A judge will use the items on the list (and potentially more) to grant or deny you spousal support.
Before you try to navigate these tricky and complicated legal waters on your own, contact Holmes, Diggs & Sadler to schedule a consultation and determine what the strengths and weaknesses are in your case.
How Long Does Maintenance Last?
Most maintenance does not indefinitely. However, some special circumstances favor long-term payments. For example, if one spouse gained custody of a child with a disability, they might require lifetime maintenance. This is also the case when maintenance is awarded to a spouse who is disabled to the point of incapacity. Lifetime maintenance is the informal name for maintenance ordered because of a specific condition.
In other cases, the duration of maintenance payments depends on how long the marriage lasted. Texas law places the following time limits on post-divorce maintenance:
- Five years if the couple's marriage lasted 10 to 20 years;
- Seven years if both parties were married 20 to 30 years;
- Ten years if the marriage lasted at least 30 years.
The amount of maintenance to be paid each month under Texas law is limited to the lesser of $5,000 or 20% of the paying ex-spouse’s gross monthly income. But the most important limit on the payment of maintenance in Texas is the statutory presumption that maintenance is not warranted for an ex-spouse who is not disabled or caring for a disabled child, unless that spouse has diligently pursued obtaining employment and developing skills to meet his or her minimum reasonable needs during separation and while the divorce case is pending.
Modifying Maintenance in Houston
Alimony agreements are legally binding documents that must be honored by both partners for their full duration. But court-ordered maintenance in Texas can be modified. You may need to pursue modification if your agreement has become unrealistic considering your current financial capabilities.
Texas law limits maintenance payments to 20% of the paying individual's average gross monthly income or $5,000, whichever is lower. The exact amount that was ordered to be paid every month depended on multiple factors, including the payor's salary. If, at any time, the person paying alimony experiences a decrease in salary or other financial change, he or she could request that the court modify the alimony payment. As either party’s situation changes over time, these and other factors may be considered in decreasing maintenance. Texas has no law that permits the increase of maintenance, regardless of the severity of the need.
How to Modify Maintenance in Texas
To modify maintenance, you must file a new petition or lawsuit and have it served on the other party. You must be prepared to provide sufficient evidence to prove good reason to change the terms. Texas law requires the petitioner—the requesting party— to prove a material and substantial change in circumstances.
What Happens if One of Us Remarries?
If you're the person paying alimony, you're required to continue paying despite getting involved in a new relationship or marriage. However, your obligations to make alimony payments cease if your former spouse remarries.
It's not a legal requirement to seek a modification in your court-ordered maintenance when your ex remarries, because at that point, your obligation to pay maintenance terminated—which is nice, if you know about it. If you continued to pay alimony because you were unaware that your ex remarried, you could file suit to get your overpayment back.
In situations where the recipient enters a new live-in romantic relationship, alimony payments may terminate if the court so finds. Even if your former partner doesn't get remarried but simply cohabitates with a romantic partner, a court could order an end to your maintenance payments.
At Holmes, Diggs & Sadler, our Houston spousal maintenance, and alimony lawyers can help you pursue an equitable outcome in your case.
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