Texas Divorce Laws

How to Avoid Paying Spousal Support in Texas

By:
Sophia Merton
Updated
August 20, 2022

If you were supporting your spouse during your marriage, you might be worried that you’ll be required to pay spousal maintenance or alimony. This can seriously impact your post-divorce finances, and you might be wondering how to avoid paying spousal support in Texas.

Understanding how you can reduce or avoid making spousal support payments first requires that you have a sense of the different types of support that are allowed under Texas law.

If you are worried about court-ordered spousal maintenance, you can find some peace in the fact that Texas is one of the hardest states in which to get alimony. If your main concern is negotiated alimony as a part of the settlement agreement, though, avoiding alimony legally becomes a different task entirely.

Let’s take a look at what you need to know about spousal support in Texas to help you craft a strategy that works for you and your post-divorce finances.

What Is Spousal Support?

The term spousal support is often used interchangeably with alimony, even though Texas law never once uses the word alimony. The purpose of this type of support is to provide a continuing income to a lower-wage-earning spouse or a non-wage-earning spouse.

money from wallet for spousal support in texas

Spousal support can refer to court-ordered spousal maintenance, contractual alimony, or temporary spousal support in Texas.

There are several different types of spousal support in Texas, which are:

  • Spousal maintenance
  • Contractual alimony
  • Temporary spousal support

Spousal Maintenance

Texas is considered one of the hardest states in which to get spousal maintenance awarded by a court. Unlike other states, there are strict qualifications that must be met in order to qualify for spousal maintenance, and courts are bounded by limitations in terms of how much maintenance can be ordered and for how long.

judge making decision about spousal support in texas

Texas courts are bound by very strict guidelines when it comes to who can receive court-ordered spousal maintenance as well as limitations on the duration and amount of these payments.

The state of Texas doesn’t favor ordering spousal maintenance. In fact, proceedings begin with the assumption that it wouldn’t be appropriate to award these payments to either spouse.

There is a statutory cap on how much a court can order one spouse to pay to another. The law additionally limits the length of time that these payments can go on for after a divorce.

Texas law sets a maximum amount of spousal maintenance that courts can order, which is:

  • 20% of the supporting spouses' average monthly gross income OR
  • $5,000 per month

Out of these two options, courts can only award the lesser of these two amounts. This means that if a person makes $30,000 in gross monthly income on average, they can only be ordered to pay up to $5,000 in spousal support each month even though 20% of their income would amount to $6,000.

Contractual Alimony

Once you take a look at the qualifications for receiving spousal maintenance, you’ll see just how difficult it is to even be considered for court-ordered maintenance. Couples are able to set up their own agreement regarding spousal support, however, as a part of the divorce settlement. It’s common for this to take place through voluntary or compulsory mediation.

signing contract for spousal support contractual alimony texas

Contractual alimony is a voluntary agreement that divorcing spouses enter into regarding payment from one spouse to another after a divorce.

A spouse might fight for contractual alimony during the negotiation process, even if they are far from being able to qualify for spousal maintenance in Texas.

A number of different issues are attemptedly worked out during the mediation process, including:

  • The division of property and debts
  • Child support payments
  • Parenting arrangements
  • Spousal support awards

This agreement will be submitted to a judge to sign once both couples have signed the contract. It will then be entered into the final divorce decree so long as they find that everything is in order.

Once the settlement has been entered into the final divorce decree, both parties are contractually bound to adhere to it.

Spouses have a lot more elbow room when it comes to contractual alimony to create an agreement that works for them versus court-ordered spousal maintenance. They can pretty much come to any agreement in regards to:

  • Who is responsible for paying alimony
  • How much alimony will be paid
  • The duration of alimony payments
  • How often alimony payments are made

The way that contractual alimony is enforced is different from the way spousal maintenance is enforced.

Temporary Spousal Support

Temporary spousal support is alimony that is paid only during the process of divorce. Once a certain time period has passed (which relates to how long the court thinks it should reasonably take the lower-earning spouse to become financially independent,) the supporting spouse no longer has to make the payments.

In some cases, judges will award this type of support where it extends beyond the divorce finalization for a short time.

The spouse that wants to receive temporary support has to file a Motion for Temporary Orders– it’s not something that happens automatically. Temporary spousal support is reserved for circumstances where the court finds it to be fair and necessary, and it’s worth noting that it certainly isn’t always awarded.

If you're trying to avoid paying spousal support because you're worried about your post-divorce finances, you're likely also concerned about the cost of the divorce itself. Some people try to keep the cost of divorce down by avoiding hiring a lawyer, but this is usually only a good idea if your case is agreed upon and your estate isn't too complex. You can learn more about getting a divorce without a lawyer in Texas here.

How Long Does Spousal Support Last?

There are specific parameters for determining the duration of spousal maintenance when it is court-ordered.

old man getting a divorce in texas owes years of spousal support

The duration of a marriage impacts how long court-ordered spousal maintenance can be paid from one spouse to another under Texas law.

The court is limited in how long it can order support to be paid depending on how long the marriage lasted. The parameters are as follows:

  • Marriages that last less than ten years but fit other specific qualifications or marriages that last at least ten years but less than twenty years: maximum of 5 years of post-divorce support
  • Marriages that lasted at least twenty years but less than thirty years: up to 7 years of support
  • Marriages that lasted more than thirty years: up to ten years of support

Who Qualifies for Spousal Support in Texas?

Either spouse has the right to request spousal support as a part of a Texas divorce process. However, at least one of the following circumstances has to exist and the requesting spouse must not have enough property to provide for their basic needs at the time of the divorce:

  • The spouse seeking maintenance doesn’t have the ability to earn enough income in order to support themselves financially because of a disability, either physical or mental
  • The supporting spouse was convicted of domestic violence against either the other spouse or their children while the divorce is still pending or within two years of the initial divorce filing
  • The supported spouse is the custodial parent of a child that has a mental or physical disability that requires substantial personal care or supervision such that the parent is prevented from earning an income
  • The couple was married for at least ten years and the spouse requesting support doesn’t have the ability to make enough money to meet their basic needs

As you can see, Texas is very strict about who can receive court-ordered support as a part of a divorce.

That being said, any couple is free to come up with their own alimony agreement as a part of their divorce settlement. These qualifications only apply when it comes to the court’s ability to order spousal payment.

If you're worried that your spouse is trying to pull something funny in order to get money out of you after the divorce when they don't really need it to meet their needs, you'll probably want to look at these common sneaky divorce tactics so you know what to keep an eye out for.

What Factors Does the Court Consider When Ordering Spousal Support?

In Texas, every spousal maintenance case begins with the presumption that it wouldn’t be appropriate to award maintenance. If the spouse requesting maintenance can prove that they have tried, in good faith, to earn the money they need to meet their basic needs (whether through getting a job or getting the required education or training,) a court will move forward with the evaluation.

A number of factors will be taken into account when determining whether someone needs spousal maintenance, including:

  • The ability of each spouse to provide for their own basic needs
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The employment skills and education level of both spouses
  • How long it would take for the requesting spouse to get the education or training they need in order to earn the money required to support themselves
  • The contributions a spouse made as a homemaker
  • Each spouse’s ability to meet their own needs while paying child support, if applicable
  • The age, earning ability, emotional and physical condition, and employment history of the spouse that is requesting maintenance
  • The specific property that was brought into the marriage by both spouses
  • Whether either spouse helped contribute to the other’s increased earning power, training, or education during the marriage
  • Whether either spouse is guilty of destroying, concealing, or otherwise disposing of community property
  • Any marital misconduct that might have occurred, including cruel treatment and adultery, by either spouse during the marriage
  • Any pattern or history of domestic and family violence

How Is Spousal Support Enforced?

How spousal support is enforced in Texas has to do with whether the support comes in the form of spousal maintenance or contractual alimony.

Contractual Alimony Enforcement

Contractual alimony can be enforced by the court only to the extent that it aligns with statutory requirements. Beyond that, it can only be enforced in the same way any other contract would be in the state of Texas. This means that it can be pursued as a civil, but not criminal, claim.

Spousal Maintenance Enforcement

If a person fails to pay court-ordered maintenance, the court has the ability to find them in criminal contempt and even send them to jail.

How to Avoid Paying Spousal Support in Texas

If you are worried about being ordered to pay spousal support by the court, you might be relieved to learn about how strict the qualifications are for a person to receive payments in this manner. However, that’s not much consolation if your spouse does, in fact, qualify for spousal maintenance.

On the other hand, you might be facing divorce negotiations where your spouse is gunning for alimony payments as a part of the settlement.

It’s worth understanding that there can be serious consequences of not paying spousal support when there is a court order dictating that you do so. Not abiding by contractual alimony is a breach of contract and can also lead to unsavory outcomes.

If you’re already expected to pay spousal support in one way or another, you’ll want to take a look at the legal avenues for reducing or terminating the order or agreement, which we’ll discuss a little later on.

Have a Prenup or Post-Marital Agreement

Of course, this option requires having some foresight. This type of agreement is becoming increasingly common, as more and more people are getting married later in life with more assets to their name.

Prenuptial agreements and postnuptial agreements are similar in the issues that they deal with, but they differ in when they are signed. Prenups are written and signed before marriage in contemplation of marriage, while postnups are written and signed after the parties get legally married.

If you and your spouse agree to waive the right to spousal maintenance and alimony in one of these contracts, Texas courts will most likely abide by the contract you’ve both agreed to.

For a prenup or a post-marital agreement to be enforceable, though, a number of elements are required:

  • The agreement is in writing
  • Both parties agree to any of the directives in the contract
  • The contract must be drafted and executed properly
  • The contract must be signed voluntarily and willingly by both parties

When it comes to prenups, they also have to be written: “in contemplation of marriage.”

Prove Your Spouse Doesn’t Need the Money

If your spouse asked the court for spousal maintenance and you believe that they don’t need the money to cover their basic needs, you can work to demonstrate that your spouse has the necessary assets in order to cover his or her cost of living without added assistance from you.

Even if your spouse doesn’t have a current source of income, that doesn’t automatically mean they are going to need support. A court will consider additional resources including assets that could be sold, large investment accounts, trust funds, and more.

Are you looking for the most cost-effective way to get divorced in the Lone Star State? Check out these cheap divorce options in Texas.

Get Divorced Sooner

The way that spousal maintenance works in Texas is that the duration of payments ordered is directly related to how long the marriage lasted. While this option obviously won’t be possible for everyone, understanding the relationship between the duration of a marriage and how long you have to pay spousal support can be a useful piece of information to include in your divorce contemplation.

When you look at the qualifications for receiving court-ordered support, you’ll see that the required elements certainly don’t apply to all Texas marriages. The most common method that a spouse obtains spousal support is through the qualification of having been married for at least ten years and not being able to support themselves financially.

If you are approaching the ten-year mark and you know your marriage isn’t working out, it might incentivize you to get moving toward divorce sooner rather than later.

Ask For an Employability Evaluation of Your Spouse

Even if your spouse doesn’t have a source of income and claims they won’t be able to find a job, it’s possible that they actually already have the training they need to find work and make enough money to be financially independent. If they are asking the court for maintenance or an existing order is in place, you might be able to ask that the court evaluates their employability.

Even if this doesn’t help you totally avoid alimony, it might help to shorten the amount of time you have to pay support after divorce.

A judge will take a look at your spouse’s education, job history, and training in order to determine whether they should be able to support themselves after divorce.

Negotiate Other Terms During Mediation

If you expect your spouse to fight for contractual alimony during mediation, you might be able to find a compromise that lets you off the hook from making monthly payments.

When embroiled in a contested divorce, it’s usually advised to have a lawyer. Divorces are complex and the outcomes can have serious outcomes on your day-to-day life post-divorce. Working with a lawyer can help you understand what your options are and help you determine the best course of action.

There are a number of ways you can try to avoid making monthly payments through a divorce settlement.

The first option is to make other concessions instead of paying alimony. One common example of this tactic is letting your spouse keep the marital home or other valuable property in exchange for releasing you from the expectation of making alimony payments.

The second option is making a lump sum payment as a part of the divorce settlement rather than ongoing payments.

If you choose to go the second route, it’s important to make sure this will actually be less expensive in the long run. A financial advisor and a tax specialist should be able to help you figure out the option that is most favorable to you.

Prove Your Spouse Is Already Living With a New Romantic Partner

If you’ve been making spousal maintenance payments and your ex has started living with a new romantic partner, you can request termination of the maintenance payments. You will need to be able to prove that your spouse is married to a new person or living with someone they are in an intimate relationship with.

Texas law outlines a number of different circumstances when spousal maintenance can be terminated, and the supported spouse getting remarried or moving in with a romantic partner is one such instance.

How to Modify or Terminate Spousal Support

Modifying Spousal Support

If there has been a substantial and material change of circumstances since the order was first put in place, a court can modify your maintenance orders. The paying spouse is required to continue upholding the requirements of the existing order, however, until the court changes the award formally.

This means that you should not stop paying spousal support or reduce your payment even if the court is considering your request to modify the amount owed. You must wait until the new order is in effect.

If you don’t comply with the existing court order, you can end up facing serious consequences, including bank liens, steep fees, or even jail time.

Terminating Spousal Support

In general, spousal maintenance continues until the stated termination date. There are some exceptions, though. These include:

  • Either party passing away
  • The supported spouse is living with someone they’re in a romantic relationship with
  • The supported spouse getting remarried
  • A future order or review of the order from the court

It’s important that you continue to follow the existing court order until the judge hears your request for a spousal support modification and terminates or modifies the order.

Avoiding Spousal Support in Texas: Final Thoughts

Of course, it’s important to stay within the boundaries of the law when you are trying to avoid spousal support in Texas. And, depending on your circumstances, you might feel that paying some amount of support is justified.

That being said, it’s totally natural to be worried about having to send a big portion of your income to your ex-spouse for a specific period of time after your divorce is final. If you feel that your spouse is trying to bleed you dry when they don’t actually need the money in order to survive, the whole process can be particularly aggravating.

If you’re getting divorced in Texas, one of your primary priorities should be learning about your rights and obligations under the law. Divorce can be a stressful and emotional time, but getting a better grasp of the process can be very helpful to let you know what to expect and how to best protect your interests and rights.

Are you looking for more resources about Texas family law? Be sure to check out TexasDivorceLaws.org.

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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