If you’re getting divorced, the topic of alimony might be on your mind. For example, maybe you’ve been in a one-income household in your marriage as one partner stayed home to raise the kids. What is the stay-at-home-spouse going to do financially after the marriage dissolves? Understanding Alimony in Texas is essential if you’re expecting to pay or receive spousal support, as Texas law is actually pretty unique in this regard.
When you’re thinking about alimony, there’s probably one question that’s particularly on your mind: how much is it?
The answer to that is: it depends. If you receive alimony that is ordered by the court, there are limits on how much alimony you receive each month and for how long. On top of that, there are strict qualifications you have to meet to even be able to receive alimony through a court order.
On the other hand, how much alimony you receive (or pay) through a contractual agreement isn’t limited by the law. Let’s dive into the world of Alimony in Texas to help you understand the most important aspects of spousal support in the Lone Star State.
Though alimony isn’t mentioned in Texas Family Law, the term is synonymous with spousal support. Receiving alimony in a divorce in the U.S. isn’t rare, but it also isn’t automatic and certainly isn’t ordered in the case of every divorce.
The basic definition of alimony is when one spouse pays another after a divorce or during divorce proceeding. Different states have different uses of the term, and it can be used to refer to court-ordered payments, voluntary payments made through an agreement between couples, or both.
In Texas, the term used for voluntary payments resulting from a contract between spouses is contractual alimony or spousal support.
In general, though, there are a few things you’ll want to know about what alimony isn’t:
Texas does have alimony, but Texas Family Law never uses this specific term. In general, the law favors spousal support payments that are decided as a part of divorce settlements in the form of private contracts rather than court-ordered spousal maintenance.
That being said, spousal maintenance can be ordered by a Texas court. The laws in the state are very strict in terms of who is eligible, how much can be awarded, and the duration of the payment period.
Texas law doesn’t provide for alimony as a right. That being said, it isn’t prohibited either. For a court to order alimony payments, specific qualifications need to be met. The other option is coming to an agreement with your soon-to-be-ex and including it as a contract in the divorce settlement.
The amount of alimony an individual receives after divorce will depend on a number of factors.
First of all, spousal maintenance ordered by a court is bound by a number of limits. Under Texas law, spousal maintenance payments can be no more than 20% of the supporting spouse’s average monthly income or $5,000, whichever is lower.
As an example, let’s say that you make $3,000 a month. This means that you cannot be ordered to pay more than $600 a month.
When it comes to contractual alimony, these rules don’t apply. Since this is a private contract between the parties involved, they can negotiate an arrangement that suits them.
In some instances, one spouse might negotiate for life insurance benefits or additional other protections in case the supporting spouse were to unexpectedly pass away.
When divorcing spouses agree to a contractual alimony arrangement, the obligation can be included in the Final Decree of Divorce.
Court-ordered spousal maintenance typically comes in the form of monthly payments.
When you agree to a contractual alimony agreement, though, there are additional options. Of course, monthly payments are one of the choices on the table. Because this is a private contract between the two of you, you have a lot of flexibility in terms of how the agreement is laid out.
It’s important to understand that there might be tax consequences to awarding and accepting a lump sum alimony payment as a part of a divorce settlement. However, whether or not this award is subject to tax can have to do with whether it is referred to as a “settlement” or “alimony” in your settlement. If you’re interested in a lump sum payment rather than monthly payments, talk to your divorce lawyer and a tax attorney.
It’s worth noting that the taxation of alimony recently changed, at least in the way you deal with it on federal tax returns. This is due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. While alimony once was seen as income that could be taxed and deducted depending on whether you received it or paid it, the tax implications are different for alimony for divorce agreements signed after January 1, 2019.
There are other ways that one spouse can be compensated by the other through the settlement other than alimony, too. Some of these include:
It’s a good idea to talk to your lawyer about what makes sense in your circumstance when it comes to alimony. If you are the spouse requesting alimony, you might find that your spouse is more open to offering a division of property that favors you rather than signing on for monthly alimony payments.
If you receive court-ordered alimony in Texas, there are parameters that set limits on the duration of the payments.
Judges are required to order the shortest duration necessary for support under Texas law. This is true except for instances that involve a mental or physical disability, custodial parent, or another exceptional and compelling situation.
Court-ordered alimony payments can end early if any of the following occur:
If you are trying to modify a court-ordered alimony arrangement, it’s important to understand that you have to follow the existing court order until the judge hears your request.
Are you wondering whether you can start dating again before your divorce is final? Take a look at what to watch out for when it comes to dating and divorce in Texas.
Contractual alimony agreements aren’t overwhelmingly common since both parties have to agree to the terms in order for them to be included in the Final Decree of Divorce. At the same time, the arrangement certainly isn’t rare, either. If a divorcing couple is able to come to this type of agreement, though, they have a lot of flexibility in what the terms of the arrangement are. They don’t have to deal with any limit on duration, a cap on the amount, or eligibility requirements.
Sometimes contractual alimony payments come in the form of a short-term agreement or a one-time fee. In other instances, it might be a specific amount of money every month for an extended period of time.
If you think you have the right leverage to negotiate contractual alimony under terms that are favorable to you, talk to your lawyer about what is possible in this regard.
In most cases, you have to have been married for ten years to receive court-ordered spousal support in Texas. The only exception for this is if the supporting spouse was convicted of family violence.
There are no restrictions on how long you’ve been married for contractual alimony. This is because this type of arrangement results from a voluntary agreement between the divorcing parties.
Texas is one of the hardest states to win court-ordered spousal maintenance. It is possible to win these cases in court. The court begins with the presumption that neither party should receive alimony, meaning that the need for spousal support needs to be proven. On top of that, there are very stringent qualifications that must be met to even be eligible for consideration. Even if you meet those criteria, receiving spousal support isn’t guaranteed.
However, a private contract created as a part of a divorce settlement is a much more straightforward path to take if possible.
In order to qualify for alimony that is ordered by the court (known as spousal maintenance in Texas,) a spouse has to fall within a number of fairly specific circumstances.
Divorcing couples are free to agree to a post-divorce alimony arrangement, however. They simply need to do so in a contract as a part of the settlement rather than through the court. It’s worth noting that going this route (taking the issue to court) will also likely be more expensive than drafting and signing your own private contract.
If seeking maintenance through the court is necessary, though, a spouse has to lack sufficient property once the divorce is final in order to meet his or her minimum needs.
On top of that, one of the three following circumstances must also be true:
As you might imagine, most court-ordered alimony payments result from the first option. A spouse that doesn’t meet any of these requirements isn’t eligible to receive alimony that is ordered by the court. That being said, couples can draft their own private agreement to create an arrangement for contractual alimony.
Unlike court-ordered spousal maintenance, there aren’t any conditions that must be met for someone to receive contractual alimony. This is because it is a voluntary agreement you are entering into rather than something that is ordered by the court.
The purpose of contractual alimony is to act as the primary means of subsistence of the supported spouse if they are disabled or care of a disabled child or to supplement their income.
Through contractual alimony agreements, couples can choose to create custom arrangements that suit their particular situation.
For example, maybe you are going to sell the marital home and move into an apartment, but you want to reduce the burden of transition on your children. In this instance, you might create a contractual alimony agreement where payments are made to you for a short period of time to help cover the additional living expenses of briefly managing two properties. This type of agreement can help to maintain a semblance of stability in the lives of children after the divorce.
In Texas, couples are allowed to create a binding agreement in regards to alimony in their prenuptial agreement. Prenups are a contract that soon-to-be spouses sign in contemplation of marriage. These contracts usually control how property will be divided in the case of divorce.
Prenups in Texas can include agreements between prospective spouses to:
Texas courts will enforce prenups so long as the contract is in writing, doesn’t have to be supported by “consideration,” and was created “in contemplation of marriage.” In order to be enforceable, these contracts also must have been signed voluntarily by both spouses and they must not be “unconscionable,” meaning it’s egregiously unfair.
The state of Texas recognizes common law marriage as being equally valid as a traditional marriage. This means that the divorce process is exactly the same whether you have a formal marriage or a common-law marriage. However, it is required that you can prove that the marriage actually existed.
Check out this recent post to learn more about common law marriage in Texas.
Spousal support is a term that can be used synonymously with alimony. You will also sometimes see it used to discuss court-ordered payments, which is technically called spousal maintenance in Texas.
Temporary spousal support is a type of alimony that is only paid during divorce proceedings. These payments stop after a specific period of time-based on how long the court believes is reasonable for the lower-earning spouse to find another means of financial support. A judge might choose to award temporary spousal support that continues on after a divorce is final for a period of time.
The lower-earning spouse has to file a Motion for Temporary Orders in order to receive this interim support. This type of order is reserved for cases where the court believes such action is fair and necessary. Much like spousal maintenance, it is not always awarded to those who request it.
Spousal support isn’t mandatory in Texas. If a spouse is requesting spousal support through the court, the judge has to follow strict guidelines as a part of his decision on whether or not to award maintenance payments.
Spouses have to meet a specific set of criteria in order to qualify for spousal maintenance in Texas.
The other option, though, is a contractual agreement made between the spouses as a part of the divorce settlement. These contracts aren’t bound by the same strict laws as court-ordered spousal maintenance.
Are you wondering how to keep costs down when you’re getting divorced in Texas? Check out the cheapest divorce options here.
Spousal maintenance is the term used in Texas to refer to court-ordered payments. As discussed above, awarding spousal maintenance in a divorce case occurs on a case-by-case basis.
The court will consider any and all relevant factors if a spouse is eligible for spousal maintenance. This can include factors such as:
Additional factors that can come into play include the age and health of the spouses, how long the marriage lasted, and the way that the spouses treated each other in the marriage.
In order to receive spousal maintenance, the spouse seeking support has to demonstrate that they have been searching for educational, training, and employment opportunities with diligence.
Depending on your situation, the decision to pursue post-divorce support in a Texas divorce might feel more or less optional. If it will be necessary for you to meet your basic needs, then there is certainly an argument for asking the court for spousal support. However, it’s important to weigh out the costs and benefits of doing so, as paying an attorney to attend court for spousal support matters will start to add up quickly.
If you don’t have a strong position when it comes to offering the necessary evidence to a judge, you could end up receiving little reward for having spent a large sum of money.
It’s a good idea to talk to your attorney about spousal support and your financial situation at the beginning of your case. They’ll be able to help you determine whether you have a good chance of receiving spousal maintenance through a court order. They can also help you in negotiating a contractual alimony agreement if that seems to be the better route in your particular circumstance.
Getting divorced isn’t cheap anywhere, and Texas is no exception. If you choose to take your battle over support to trial, you can expect the total cost to be much higher than if the two of you are able to come to an agreement without involving the courts. Take a look at this post about the cost of divorce in Texas to learn more.
Navigating the divorce process in Texas can feel like walking through a minefield. Not only are you dealing with the emotional and financial fallout of your marriage ending, but also the legal process itself is far from a walk in the park. When you and your spouse had widely different incomes, trying to figure out how you’re going to meet your basic needs after the divorce can be incredibly stressful.
The reality is that receiving court-ordered alimony in a divorce in Texas isn’t particularly easy. The court begins with the presumption that spousal maintenance isn’t necessary. If you haven’t been married for longer than ten years and don’t fit within specific requirements, you won’t be able to receive court-ordered spousal support.
That being said, contractual alimony agreements can allow you and your spouse to work out an agreement that is suitable for both of you. Of course, depending on how amicable the divorce is, it might be more or less difficult to get your spouse to agree to spousal support.
If you are the higher earner in your marriage, you might be glad to hear that Texas isn’t a particularly alimony-friendly state when it comes to creating court orders. That being said, you might feel that it is appropriate to offer short-term alimony or another suitable arrangement in order to ensure that your spouse isn’t left without any means to support him or herself after the divorce.
No matter where you are in the Texas divorce process, it always helps to have more information up your sleeve. If you’re searching for more resources about divorce in the Lone Star State, be sure to check out our library of articles about Texas divorce, marriage, prenups, and more.