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How to Avoid Alimony in Texas

Sophia Merton
August 12, 2022

If you've been supporting your spouse throughout your marriage, you might be wondering whether you'll be ordered to make payments after the divorce is final to your ex. If you're wondering how to avoid alimony in Texas, there are a number of things you'll want to understand about spousal support in the Lone Star State.

First of all, alimony isn't a given in every divorce in Texas. Court-ordered spousal maintenance is only ordered in specific circumstances. However, it's possible that alimony will be an issue that needs to be negotiated in your divorce settlement.

It's reasonable to be concerned about the financial burden of paying alimony after the divorce is final. The good news, though, is that Texas courts begin with the presumption that court-ordered maintenance won't be appropriate.

If you are embroiled in a divorce where your spouse is fighting for court-ordered maintenance, though, or putting alimony on the table in the settlement process, stick with us while we look at how to avoid alimony.

What Is Alimony?

Alimony refers to payments made by one spouse to another as a part of the divorce process. The purpose behind these payments is to help support a spouse that makes a lower income or has no income financially.

jar full of pennies representing alimony in texas
Texas law doesn't ever use the word "alimony," but they will award spousal maintenance in certain circumstances. Couples can also choose to enter into a contractual alimony agreement as a part of their divorce settlement.

Each state has its own laws regarding alimony. In some places, a court might order a higher-earning spouse to make payments to the lower-earning spouse in order to allow them to maintain the same lifestyle they had during the marriage. In other states, though, alimony isn’t intended to help the lower-earning spouse live the same lifestyle but instead meet their basic needs.

It’s worth understanding that Texas law doesn’t use the word “alimony.” Instead, they refer to spousal support and spousal maintenance. In addition to these terms, Texas courts will uphold contractual alimony so long as all the necessary requirements are met.

Is Texas a “No Alimony” State?

When you get married, certain legal duties are established for both spouses. One such duty is the reciprocal obligation to support one another, including financially.

ball of us money as alimony in texas
While Texas is considered one of the most difficult states in which to get court-ordered spousal maintenance, it isn't entirely a "no alimony" state.

In the state of Texas, though, the public policy puts forth the idea that a spouse’s duty to support the other spouse is terminated by the end of the marital relationship. This means that a Texas court won’t award a spouse maintenance payments in the form of traditional permanent alimony. If your spouse is expecting the court to order payments in order to uphold a certain lifestyle standard even though they have the means to meet their basic needs after divorce, they’re out of luck.

Not terribly long ago, Texas courts held that an individual was only entitled to their share of community property when a marriage dissolved. However, in 1995, this policy shifted somewhat when it was specifically recognized that spousal maintenance is valid in certain circumstances.

In general, Texas courts are greatly restricted in their power to order spousal maintenance in a divorce, both in the amount and duration of payments.

That being said, divorcing parties are free to create a contractual agreement that outlines alimony payments after divorce.

The public policy in Texas favors the notion of freedom of contract for individuals. This means that people are free to enter into private contractual alimony agreements.

Understanding Spousal Maintenance Vs. Alimony in Texas

Before we learn about how to avoid or reduce alimony in Texas, it’s important to understand the different types of spousal support in Texas. The Lone Star State is considered one of the most difficult places to get court-ordered spousal maintenance in a divorce, and there are strict qualifications that the supported spouse has to meet for a judge to order the other spouse to make payments to them.

Spousal Maintenance

Under the Texas legislature, courts are able to award spousal maintenance payments to a spouse for a brief period of time after a divorce in specific situations. Texas law does not favor spousal maintenance, and courts enter into proceedings with the assumption that spousal maintenance would not be appropriate.

counting alimony money in texas spousal maintenance
In Texas, court-ordered alimony is known as "spousal maintenance."

The amount of spousal maintenance that can be ordered by the court has a statutory cap. On top of that, the duration of time that these payments are required is limited by the law.

The maximum amount of spousal maintenance that can be ordered is set at 20% of the average monthly gross income of the higher-earning spouse, or $5,000, whichever is lower.

In order to find your gross income for the purposes of estimating spousal maintenance, you’ll want to add up everything that you earn in a month, including:

  • Wages
  • Salaries
  • Rental income
  • Royalties
  • Stock dividends
  • Income from selling property
  • Interest

It’s important to understand that courts will only award spousal maintenance in specific circumstances. We’ll discuss the qualifications for receiving spousal maintenance a little later on.

Contractual Alimony

As opposed to spousal maintenance, contractual alimony isn’t determined by a court. Instead, it is typically created as a part of a divorce settlement through the agreement of both spouses. This often occurs through mediation, whether compulsory or voluntary.

counting alimony in texas
Even if your spouse doesn't qualify for spousal maintenance in the eyes of Texas law, they might fight for contractual alimony during the negotiation process.

During the mediation process, spouses will bargain over a number of issues, including:

  • How to divide assets and debts
  • Parenting time schedules
  • Child support
  • Alimony awards

When the divorcing couple comes to an agreement that they are both willing to sign, they will submit it to the judge. So long as everything is in order, the judge will enter the agreement into the final divorce decree. Spouses are then contractually bound to adhere to the agreement they signed, as the final divorce decree is binding.

With contractual alimony, as opposed to court-ordered maintenance, spouses have the freedom to determine the terms of alimony payments, including the amount, the duration, and how frequently payments are made. With spousal maintenance, courts are significantly limited in terms of when they can order maintenance payments, for how much, and for how long.

Contractual alimony also differs from court-ordered maintenance in the way that it is enforced.

If an ex-spouse doesn’t make court-ordered payments, the court might enforce the payments using its contempt powers. This means that they could face fines or even time in jail.

There are a number of defenses that an individual might use in these cases, including:

  • Being unable to afford the amount that is due
  • Having no legal source to obtain the money owed
  • Not having sufficient property to sell in order to make the payments

Contractual alimony, on the other hand, is only enforceable to the extent it aligns with statutory requirements.

For example, let’s say that you entered a contractual agreement to receive alimony payments for fifteen years. However, the court would not have been able to order more than ten years' worth of maintenance payments. If your ex-spouse ceases to make the payments they agreed to in the eleventh year, the court wouldn’t be able to hold them in contempt.

That being said, you can pursue a civil claim in order to enforce your rights when it comes to contractual alimony.

Temporary Spousal Support

If you’re getting a divorce in Texas, you’ll also want to know about temporary spousal support.

This type of support is only paid during the divorce proceedings and potentially for a short period of time after the divorce is final. How long this type of support is paid is determined by the court depending on how long they believe it will take the supported spouse to find another means of financial support or income.

A Motion for Temporary Orders must be filed by the spouse seeking support in order to receive it. This type of support is reserved for situations where the court believes the payments are fair and necessary. This means that receiving this type of support (or being ordered to pay it) is not at all a given.

If you’re in an informal marriage and you and your partner are splitting up, you might be wondering if you qualify for paying or receiving alimony. Texas law sees common law marriages as equally valid as traditional marriages. So long as it can be proven that the marriage existed, the process of dissolving a common law marriage is the same as dissolving a formal marriage. You can learn more about common law marriage in Texas in this guide.

How Is Spousal Support Determined in Texas?

Spousal maintenance is in no way automatic in Texas. Usually, it is requested by a spouse when they aren’t able to be financially independent after the divorce. A court could order you to pay maintenance to your ex if they don’t have enough to cover their basic living expenses and if they don’t have the means to immediately get a job to earn enough income to support themselves.

Sometimes, one spouse has been out of the workforce for a long time because they have been raising children or taking care of an elderly parent. Having spent significant time away from the workforce, they might argue that it will be difficult for them to get a job and be financially independent after divorce.

Courts will decide whether or not spousal maintenance is necessary in your specific case. However, divorcing couples are free to come to their own agreement regarding alimony payments as a part of their divorce settlement.

What Are the Qualifications For Spousal Maintenance or Alimony in Texas?

Both spouses are free to request spousal maintenance during a Texas divorce. That being said, courts are seriously limited in their ability to award maintenance under Texas law.

Basically, a court only has the power to order spousal maintenance if the spouse requesting financial support can’t meet their basic needs at the time of divorce and one of the following circumstances is true:

  • The marriage lasted for at least ten years
  • The higher-earning spouse was convicted of domestic violence against their spouse or their children while the divorce is pending or within two years of the divorce filing
  • The spouse requesting support can’t earn enough income to cover their basic needs because they have an incapacitating mental or physical disability
  • The spouse requesting support has custody of a child that needs substantial supervision or care due to a physical or mental disability, which leaves the parent unable to earn an income

As you can see here, there are only very specific circumstances that allow Texas courts to order spousal maintenance. When support payments are awarded by the courts, the most common circumstance is that a spouse is unable to support themselves and they have been married for at least ten years.

What Factors Are Considered in Determining Spousal Support?

Courts will take a number of financial and non-financial factors into consideration when determining spousal support.

Financial Factors

Of course, the judge will look at the income of each spouse when determining whether spousal maintenance is appropriate or necessary. In addition to income, though, they will also consider:

  • Debts or liabilities that are owed
  • The liquid assets of each spouse
  • How property is being divided and the post-divorce living conditions of each spouse
  • The expected living expense costs after divorce compared to current income
  • Child support payments that are being made from one spouse to the other
  • How long it will take the lower-earning spouse to get the training or education they need in order to be financially independent

A judge can consider the fact that you could be earning more than you’re currently earning when determining whether spousal maintenance will be ordered. In these instances, they will use the potential earnings of a spouse rather than the current earnings of a spouse to determine the amount of the award.

Non-Financial Factors

The financial factors in a divorce case are the primary elements that a judge will consider. However, additional information can impact their final decision, such as:

  • The health and age of each spouse
  • The relationship history between the spouses, including allegations of neglect or abuse
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • A disabled child or elderly parent that requires full-time care and prevents one spouse from earning an income
  • Whether either spouse or both spouses plan on re-marrying soon

How to Avoid or Reduce Alimony in Texas

Alimony and spousal maintenance are ways to help a lower-earning spouse that would be unable to support themselves immediately after marriage get back on their feet. However, in some cases, a spouse might try to prove they require court-ordered maintenance or fight for alimony in a settlement when you don’t feel they actually need the payments in order to make ends meet.

Let’s look at some of the ways that you can avoid or reduce alimony in a Texas divorce.

Prove That Your Spouse Doesn’t Need the Money

In the state of Texas, the court begins with the assumption that neither spouse should receive spousal support. Only if the spouse asking for maintenance payments is unable to meet his or her “minimum reasonable needs” will the court consider ordering these payments.

There are a number of factors that the court will take into account to determine whether maintenance is needed in a divorce case. These include the spouses:

  • Age
  • Education
  • Health
  • Employment history and ability
  • Child support
  • Child custody

If you are worried that you are going to have to make spousal maintenance payments, it’s worth understanding that spousal support is certainly not a given in Texas. If you can prove that your spouse has the ability to find gainful employment or support themselves, the court won’t order you to make payments to them after divorce.

Even if your spouse doesn’t have the means to get a job right away, that doesn’t mean they need spousal maintenance. If you and your lawyer can prove to the court that they have the assets to cover their minimum basic needs, you are much less likely to have to make alimony payments.

For example, your spouse might have a large investment account, a trust fund, or considerable individual assets that they could sell to cover the cost of their basic needs after a divorce.

Ask For a Review of Your Spouse’s Employability

It isn’t unheard of for a spouse to claim that they will be unable to find employment after divorce that allows them to meet their minimum basic needs, even if this isn’t true. If you can prove to the court that your spouse does have the training necessary to find a well-paying position, you might be able to avoid paying alimony or shorten the duration of time you are ordered to pay alimony.

If you believe your spouse is capable of finding gainful employment after divorce, you can ask the court for an evaluation of their employability. The court will look at a number of factors, including their:

  • Education level
  • Job history
  • Occupational training

If a judge finds that your spouse requires less training or schooling to find a new job than they initially claimed, it can help you avoid or reduce the spousal support you are ordered to pay.

Don’t Wait Too Long to Get Divorced

Of course, this might not be possible in every instance. However, if you know you want a divorce and you are waiting for the right time, it’s worth understanding that the length of your marriage can have an impact on whether spousal maintenance is ordered by a court.

Even if you are ordered to pay spousal support, the length of the marriage also directs how long you are ordered to make payments for after the divorce is finalized.

For example, if you haven’t been found responsible for domestic violence, your spouse simply might not qualify for support if the marriage lasted less than ten years.

Have a Prenup or Post-Marital Agreement in Place

If you have a prenuptial agreement or post-marital agreement that waives the right to alimony and spousal maintenance, you can rest assured that Texas courts will likely abide by your existing contract. That being said, there are a number of elements required for a prenup or post-marital agreement to be enforceable, including:

  • Both parties agree to any directives in their prenup or postnup
  • The agreement must be in writing
  • The agreement must be properly drafted and executed
  • Both parties must voluntarily sign the agreement

Many couples avoid creating a prenup before marriage because they feel it indicates that they don’t think the marriage will last. However, there are a lot of benefits to creating prenups, including helping to avoid conflicts down the road about how finances are dealt with in the marriage. In fact, it can be a great tool that strengthens a relationship because important considerations are discussed and agreed upon before the marriage even begins.

Negotiate a Different Type of Divorce Settlement

If you’re concerned about your soon-to-be-ex fighting for alimony either through the courts or in a divorce settlement, one of the best things you can do is hire an experienced family law attorney.

If alimony is on the table during your divorce settlement, there are a number of options to help avoid the outcome of making monthly payments to your ex after divorce.

One option is to make a one-time, lump sum payment to your spouse as a part of the divorce settlement. In the long-term, this can provide a cost-savings for the supporting spouse. That being said, it’s a good idea to consult with a tax specialist and a financial advisor to make sure that this is the most beneficial option for you in the big picture.

You also might be able to avoid paying alimony in a divorce settlement if you are willing to make other concessions. These might include allowing the spouse to keep valuable assets, including the marital home or other property.

A good divorce lawyer will help you examine all of the different options when it comes to creating a divorce settlement. By looking at your assets, debts, and overall situation, they can assist you in coming up with an agreement that is worth fighting for as well as determine what concessions are worth making.

Of course, hiring a lawyer for your divorce isn’t cheap. This leaves some people wondering if they can manage to get divorced without bringing an attorney onto their side. Getting divorced without a lawyer is generally only advisable in certain circumstances, so you’ll want to consider the pros and cons carefully before deciding to represent yourself in a divorce case.

Prove Your Spouse Is Living With a New Partner

If you’ve already been ordered to make spousal maintenance payments and you’d like to request the termination of the payments, showing that your spouse is living with or married to a new partner is one reason that Texas will put an end to the required payments.

There are a number of circumstances in Texas that you are allowed to request termination of spousal support payments, including your ex living with an intimate partner or getting remarried.

FAQ About Avoiding Alimony in Texas

The prospect of having to pay alimony can be incredibly distressing, and this can leave them hoping that they can skip town to avoid making the payments. Let's take a look at some commonly asked questions about alimony and spousal support to ensure that you understand what is and isn’t possible when it comes to avoiding alimony.

Can I Avoid Alimony Payments By Moving Out of State?

If you signed a contractual alimony agreement with your spouse, moving out of state won’t free you from this obligation. The same is true if you are ordered to pay spousal maintenance by a court.

Are you supposed to be receiving alimony or maintenance payments from a spouse and they haven’t been paying up after moving out of state? This probably means that it’s time to hire a lawyer to help take a look at your options.

Even if your spouse is required to make payments to you, that doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes difficult to collect these payments.

The enforcement options are different when it comes to spousal maintenance and contractual alimony. If you fail to pay court-ordered maintenance, it’s possible you could be found in criminal contempt and even go to jail. Contractual alimony, on the other hand, is only enforced to the extent it aligns with statutory requirements. Otherwise, it is enforceable in the same way other contracts are in Texas, meaning you could work to enforce your rights by pursuing a civil claim.

An experienced lawyer will know the best way to pursue the payments you are owed, whether by court order or by contractual agreement.

Can I Avoid Alimony Payments By Moving Out of the Country?

Moving out of the country won’t remove your legal obligation to make spousal support payments. This is true whether it was ordered by a court or agreed upon contractually as a part of the divorce settlement.

If you’re worried that your spouse is planning on playing dirty pool during your divorce, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some common sneaky divorce tactics. This will help you know what to keep an eye out for as your divorce progresses.

Can You Be Ordered to Pay Spousal Maintenance to Two Ex-Spouses?

If you are getting divorced for the second (or third, or fourth, etc.,) time, you might be wondering if it’s legal for an individual to pay alimony or spousal maintenance to more than one ex-spouse.

In short, the answer is yes.

If you sign a contract with more than one spouse agreeing to pay alimony, you will be responsible for upholding your end of the contract in both cases.

If you are ordered to pay spousal maintenance to one ex, and you are getting divorced again, you can still be ordered to make support payments to another spouse. If you are in this situation, it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney to help estimate what your spousal maintenance payments will be and for how long you will be expected to pay them.

Are You Getting Divorced in Texas?

Getting divorced can be an incredibly stressful time, both emotionally and financially. In terms of the finances, you not only have to worry about the cost of divorce, but you also have to think about what your post-divorce finances will look like.

If you were the higher-earning spouse, you might be worried that you will have to pay alimony or spousal maintenance. If there are children involved, you also might be ordered to pay child support.

Understanding your rights and responsibilities under Texas law can help you obtain an outcome that you are happy with after a divorce. For more information about family law in Texas, be sure to check out our library of articles at TexasDivorceLaws.org.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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