SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE IN TEXAS: MAYBE, MAYBE NOT
by Rob Wiley
In our family law practice at Stewart & Wiley, we often get inquiries about “alimony” or, as it’s called in Texas, spousal maintenance. As we tell the callers, spousal maintenance in Texas is the exception, not the rule, and it remains relatively rare.
Texas joined the ranks of states permitting an award of spousal maintenance – payments by one divorcing spouse to the other for that spouse’s support – relatively recently. In 1997 the Texas Legislature for the first time included provisions for spousal maintenance in the Family Code. Until then, Texas law adhered to the long held view that our community property system assured fair and equitable treatment for divorcing spouses. The theory went that judges could award unequal amounts of property to compensate one spouse for her (or his) income disparity. This simply wasn’t the case with many couples. Some didn’t’ have enough property to compensate the spouse – usually the wife – who had forgone an income producing career for years to raise a family and support the household. In other instances, the property, even if unequally divided, wasn’t liquid enough to provide the stay-at-home spouse with adequate income.
In response to this situation the Legislature provided the family courts limited authority to award spousal maintenance. Some things to keep in mind about Texas spousal maintenance:
- The maintenance seeking spouse must show insufficient resources to provide for his/her minimal, reasonable needs.
- The law requires a showing of inability to earn sufficient income to provide for those minimal, reasonable needs. Child care responsibilities or a physical or mental disability are often reasons courts award maintenance.
- The spouses must have been married for ten years or more.
- The duration, amount a court can award depends on the length of the marriage and the paying spouse’s gross monthly income, and other factors within the court’s discretion.
- In deciding whether to award maintenance at all, a court may consider a wide variety of factors, among them the age and educational background of the spouse seeking maintenance, his or her efforts to obtain employment, work history, contribution to the household, spousal infidelity, and whether the case involves family violence.
The factors outlined do not constitute legal advice and are not comprehensive. A full explanation of the Texas spousal maintenance system requires consultation with competent family law counsel.