One of the questions we are frequently asked is whether Texas allows alimony. Before going into the substance of this question, it is important to note that the Texas Family Code calls 'alimony' spousal maintenance. Given the frequency of this question, I'm going to break the answer up into a two part mini-series.
Spousal maintenance is available in certain very limited circumstances. Under Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code, spousal maintenance is available for:
- spouses of long-term marriages that lack sufficient property to meet his or her reasonable needs, and cannot support themselves because of his or her disability, a child of the marriage's disability, or his or her lack of earning capacity; OR
- The spouse of a convicted spouse for a criminal offense that constituted an act of family violence.
Tex. Fam. Code Sects. 8.051(1) - (2). Courts have held that the spousal maintenance provisions under Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code were promulgated to provide temporary and rehabilitative support for a spouse after the dissolution of a marriage. Although the spousal maintenance provisions were first enacted in 1995 to protect long-term homemakers, over the past 14 years they have been expanded greatly. Notwithstanding this expansion there are significant obstacles that present themselves along the way to awarding spousal maintenance.
Even if the court orders spousal maintenance there are a litany of factors the court must then consider in determining the amount to order. These factors (in no particular order) include:
- The seeking spouse's financial resources;
- The financial resources of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought;
- The relative financial resources of both spouses;
- The spouses' contributions to each others earning capacity;
- The amount and value of the separate property brought into the marriage;
- The duration of marriage (in excess to the required 10 year duration if maintenance is not sought under the family violence qualification);
- The age, employment history, earning capacity, and physical/emotional health of the spouse seeking maintenance;
- Whether the parties committed any marital misconduct (i.e. extramarital affairs);
- The contributions as a homemaker by the spouse seeking maintenance; and
- The education and employment skills of both spouses.
There is a final hurdle that has to be cleared on the road to spousal maintenance -- the duration of the award. As a general rule, courts cannot order spousal maintenance for more than three years. Tex. Fam. Code Sect. 8.054(a). Additionally, spousal maintenance must be limited to the shortest reasonable period. Thus, spousal maintenance could be ordered for a year in duration. Like most rules of law, there is an exception to this. The duration of spousal maintenance can exceed three years if the spouse seeking maintenance is unable to support him or herself because of a physical or mental disability; or is the custodian of a child of marriage who has a physical or mental disability. Id. at Sect. 8.054(b).
As a Dallas divorce lawyer, I frequently encounter individuals who are either completely unaware or misinformed about the spousal maintenance provisions. If you believe you fall into either of the scenarios where spousal maintenance is available, please don't hesitate to contact our office.
In the next part of this mini-series I'll address enforcement and collection of spousal maintenance awards.