Texas alimony laws are complex and relatively strict

Alimony in Texas is relatively hard to get.

Texas is arguably has the most restrictive rules for court-ordered alimony in the country. Called spousal maintenance, alimony eligibility standards are narrow and the duration and amount of awards relatively limited.

Anyone facing divorce in the Lone Star State, whether potentially the alimony payor or the recipient, should seek the advice of a family lawyer about the complex alimony law that applies should the issue be decided by the judge in the divorce proceeding.

Contractual alimony

Instead of having a judge decide, the parties may negotiate a contractual agreement for alimony. If they agree to their own terms in a written agreement, they are not confined to the relatively narrow parameters that a judge must follow if alimony is ordered in the divorce.

Eligibility

To be eligible, two things must be true. First, the requesting spouse must not be able to meet his or her own "minimum reasonable needs." Second, one of the following must also be true:

  •  The payor must have been convicted of or received deferred adjudication for a crime of family violence. The crime must have occurred during the marriage against the other spouse or that spouse's child. The incident also must have happened either during the two years before the divorce petition was filed or while it is pending.
  •  The recipient cannot earn enough to meet minimum reasonable needs because of "incapacitating physical or mental disability."
  •  The marriage lasted at least 10 years and the recipient "lacks the ability" to earn enough to meet minimum reasonable needs. The recipient must also show that he or she has been diligently attempting to earn enough to provide for minimum reasonable needs or, during separation and the divorce proceeding, has been diligently trying to develop the skills to do so.
  •  The recipient will have custody of a minor or adult child of the parties' marriage who needs "substantial care and personal supervision" that will prevent the spouse from earning enough to meet minimum reasonable needs.

Relevant factors

If eligibility is established, to craft the award, including amount and duration, the judge must look at "all relevant factors," including 11 specific things:

  •  Each spouse's financial resources
  •  Each spouse's employment skills and education, or how long it would take to get skills and education (if available and feasible) that would allow him or her to earn "sufficient income"
  •  Length of marriage
  •  Recipient age, work history, earning capacity and "physical and emotional condition"
  •  Impact of child support or other alimony responsibilities
  •  Excessive spending; or destruction, hiding or "fraudulent disposition" of joint or community property
  •  One spouse's contribution to the other's career
  •  Contributions of property to the marriage
  •  "Marital misconduct," including "adultery and cruel treatment" (a factor some states do not allow to be considered)
  •  Family violence

Duration and amount

A monthly alimony payment is limited to $5,000 or one-fifth of the payor's average monthly gross income, whichever is smaller.

The law contains detailed limits on the duration of alimony orders. Depending on the length of marriage or the basis of the award, awards must be five, seven or 10 years, unless the recipient can begin to earn enough to meet minimum reasonable needs, with narrow exception.

The only basis for an indefinitely continuing award is if it is based on the recipient's disability or the disability of the child for which the recipient cares.

Lawyer Cynthia Tracy of the law firm of Cynthia Tracy, Attorney at Law, P.C., in Houston represents divorce clients in the Houston metropolitan area and across the Gulf Coast Bay Area.