Texas Divorce Laws

How Long Do You Have to Be Married to Get Alimony in Texas?

By:
Sophia Merton
Updated
August 4, 2022

When you're trying to plan for your post-divorce finances, you're probably wondering whether you should expect to pay or receive alimony. Different states have their own guidelines for awarding spousal maintenance, which is sometimes bounded by the duration of the marriage. If you're getting divorced in the Lone Star State, you're probably wondering: how long do you have to be married to get alimony in Texas?

The reality is that Texas has some of the most strict guidelines surrounding court-ordered spousal maintenance. Texas law doesn't favor awarding maintenance and only does so if it is necessary to help the supported individual get to a point where they can be financially independent.

That being said, divorcing couples can come up with just about any alimony agreement they are both comfortable with and include it as a part of their divorce settlement. It's worth understanding, though, that the way that court-ordered spousal maintenance and contractual alimony can be enforced by the courts aren't the same.

Let's take a look at how long you need to be married in Texas to receive alimony and everything else you should know about spousal support and maintenance.

What Is Alimony?

Alimony is a term commonly used to refer to payments that one spouse makes to the other during the divorce process and/or for some period of time after the divorce is final.

people calculating and counting alimony in texas

While the term "alimony" isn't used in Texas law, the terms "spousal maintenance" and "spousal support" both refer to money that one spouse gives to the other during and/or after the divorce process.

That being said, the term “alimony” is not used in Texas law.

Instead, Texas law refers to “spousal support” and “spousal maintenance.” Spousal support is usually something that spouses agree upon as a part of their divorce settlement and is voluntary. This type of support is enforced in the same way that a contract is enforced under Texas law.

Spousal maintenance, on the other hand, is ordered by a court and is therefore not voluntary.

How Do You Qualify For Spousal Maintenance in Texas?

As a part of the Texas divorce process, either spouse can request spousal maintenance. The court is only able to award spousal maintenance, however, if the spouse that is requesting maintenance can’t provide for their basic needs and at least one of the following is true:

  • The spouses have been married for at least ten years and the dependent spouse isn’t able to earn enough income to meet their basic needs
  • The spouse that is asking for maintenance has an incapacitating physical or mental disability that leaves them unable to earn enough income to meet their basic needs
  • The spouse that is asking for maintenance is the custodial parent of a child with physical or mental disabilities that requires substantial supervision or care to the extent that the parent cannot work and earn money to meet their basic needs
  • The spouse being asked to pay maintenance was convicted of an act of family violence either against their children or the spouse while the divorce is pending or within two years of the divorce being filed

Courts decide whether to award spousal maintenance on a case-by-case basis.

How Long Do You Have to Be Married to Get Alimony in Texas?

As you can see from the qualifications listed in the previous section, Texas has fairly strict criteria through which it determines whether spousal maintenance will be ordered in a specific case.

couple married for more than ten years alimony texas

Most people that receive court-ordered spousal maintenance do so under the qualification that they have been married for at least ten years and they are unable to meet their basic needs financially after divorce.

Most people that receive spousal support in Texas do so through the first qualification listed above. In these circumstances, the spouses have been married for at least ten years and the dependent spouse isn’t able to earn enough income to meet their basic needs.

So, the short answer to the question of “how long do you have to be married to get alimony in Texas?” is ten years.

However, if you qualify based on the other three points listed above, you might be able to receive spousal maintenance through a court order even if you haven’t been married for ten years.

If you and your spouse determine alimony voluntarily in your divorce settlement, however, the two of you are free to come to an agreement that suits you regardless of how the marriage lasted.

Are Spousal Support and Spousal Maintenance the Same Thing?

It’s worth understanding that Texas law views “spousal support” and “spousal maintenance” as two separate concepts.

court gavel in spousal maintenance case in texas

Spousal maintenance is court-ordered, while spousal support or alimony is voluntary.

Spousal support is commonly determined through a divorce settlement. This is a voluntary agreement that is reached between the involved parties. This agreement is contractual and is therefore enforced just like a contract.

Spousal maintenance, on the other hand, is ordered by a court and not voluntary. It can therefore be enforced as a court order.

What Is Contractual Alimony?

Though Texas law doesn’t use the term “alimony,” you still might come across a discussion of “contractual alimony” when reading about spousal support in Texas divorce cases. Contractual alimony can be understood as synonymous with “spousal support” as it is defined by Texas law, where it refers to a voluntary, contractual agreement that can be included in the divorce settlement.

man reading over contractual alimony agreement in divorce settlement texas

Though Texas has strict guidelines for awarding court-ordered spousal maintenance, couples are free to come to an alimony agreement that suits them voluntarily as a part of their divorce settlement.

Texas divorces are commonly settled through agreement by the spouses. This can occur either through compulsory mediation or voluntarily. There are a number of different issues that couples will negotiate during this process, including how to divide property and debts, a parenting agreement, and alimony payments.

When spouses come to an agreement that they both can agree on, they submit it to the judge to determine if it can be entered into the final divorce degree. Once the judge signs the final divorce decree, the spouses are contractually bound to the agreement, including any alimony awards they settled upon.

One important difference between court-ordered spousal maintenance and contractual alimony is that the spouses are able to agree upon basically any arrangement that works for them in a contractual alimony agreement. Couples can decide on the amount of alimony and how long alimony will be paid as a part of a divorce settlement. This includes potentially instituting permanent alimony payments.

On the other hand, court-ordered spousal maintenance is much more limited both in the amount of maintenance awarded as well as the length of time that payments are ordered to be made.

When Does Spousal Maintenance End?

If an individual is ordered to pay spousal maintenance by the courts, the obligation will end when the award time period ends. It can terminate before this point if either spouse passes away or if the party receiving spousal maintenance gets remarried.

Courts can also terminate spousal maintenance payments if it is found that the individual receiving payments is living with someone else that they are romantically involved with.

The Duration of Spousal Maintenance Orders

There are strict guidelines that judges must follow under Texas law when they are determining the duration of spousal maintenance awards.

For most maintenance orders, the duration of support is limited under Texas law. The guidelines for the duration are:

  • Five years: For marriages that lasted less than ten years and the spouse that is ordered to make maintenance payments was convicted of domestic violence
  • Five years: For marriages that lasted longer than ten years but less than twenty years
  • Seven years: For marriages that lasted at least twenty years but less than thirty years
  • Ten years: For marriages that lasted at least thirty years

Texas law requires that judges order spousal maintenance support for the shortest necessary duration for the spouse receiving maintenance to become financially independent. However, there are some exceptions to this, which include:

  • Cases where the supported spouse has a mental or physical disability
  • Cases where the supported spouse is the custodial parent of an infant or young child from the marriage
  • Cases with another compelling reason for extended support

Getting divorced can be an incredibly stressful period of life, and determining how much spousal support will be paid and for how long can certainly contribute to that stress. While Texas laws are very strict about when it awards spousal maintenance and for how long, you still might find that your spouse is demanding a high amount of alimony through the divorce negotiation process. If you're dealing with a difficult spouse during divorce, be sure to check out some of the most common sneaky divorce tactics.

How Much Is Spousal Maintenance in Texas?

Texas limits how much support can be ordered by a court, which is unusual compared to other U.S. states. The amount of maintenance awarded cannot be more than 20% of the average monthly gross income of the supporting spouse or $5000 per month, whichever amount is less.

Spousal payments ordered by a judge are commonly periodic and usually come in the form of monthly payments.

In order to collect spousal maintenance, the court might order an income withholding order. This order directs the employer of the paying spouse to deduct the ordered payments from their paycheck in order to send it to the appropriate court agency.

When you're getting divorced, you're likely very concerned with how dissolving your marriage is going to impact your finances. In addition to factors like spousal maintenance and child support, there is also the expense of the divorce process.

Some people choose to get divorced without a lawyer in Texas in order to save money. However, this is usually only advised in very simply divorce cases where the spouses agree on all of the terms and don't have very complicated estates.

Can a Spousal Maintenance Award Be Changed?

Spousal maintenance orders can be changed if the court finds that there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances since the original order was created.

However, the paying spouse has to follow what is outlined in the existing court order until the award has been formally changed by the courts.

If an individual fails to comply with a court order, even if you have made a request to modify spousal support awards, you can face serious penalties. These can include:

  • Bank liens
  • Time in jail
  • Legal fees

If a spouse is supposed to be paying spousal maintenance and isn’t, the supported spouse can file a formal request with the court in order to help enforce the existing order.

What Are the Factors That Determine Spousal Maintenance in Texas?

Texas law does not favor giving spousal maintenance, and therefore courts always begin with the presumption that it wouldn’t be appropriate to award spousal maintenance. If the spouse that is asking for support is able to prove that they have made a good faith effort to become financially independent and still need support, the court will move forward with an evaluation in regards to maintenance. A good faith effort is typically understood as a genuine effort to earn income or receive the necessary education or training in order to earn income.

There are a number of factors that the court will look at in order to determine how much money should be paid to a spouse and for how long. These include:

  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The ability of each spouse to provide for their own reasonable needs
  • The age, earning ability, employment history, and emotional and physical condition of the individual that is asking for spousal maintenance
  • The employment skills and education of both spouses
  • The amount of time that would be required for the spouse asking for maintenance to get the training or education they need in order to become financially independent
  • Whether community property was concealed, wasted, destroyed, or otherwise disposed of by either spouse
  • Each party’s ability to meet their own basic needs while also making child support payments, if applicable
  • The property that was brought into the marriage by each spouse
  • Whether either party contributed to the other’s increased earning power, training, or education during the marriage
  • Any family history or pattern of domestic violence
  • Misconduct during the marriage by either spouse, including cruel treatment and adultery

How Is Spousal Maintenance Taxed?

Divorce tends to precipitate change in many different aspects of life, including how you pay taxes.

The impact of divorce on how one pays federal taxes used to be larger than they currently are, however. Due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), alimony or maintenance payments that relate to divorce agreements that are dated January 1, 2019, or later are no longer tax-deductible for the individual that is making the payments. Additionally, the spouse that has been receiving maintenance or alimony payments isn’t required to report these payments as a source of income.

Before this act went into effect, people receiving alimony had to claim it as income, and people paying alimony could claim it as a deduction.

To understand how spousal maintenance or alimony impacts your taxes at the state level, you’ll want to consult with a tax professional.

How Is Spousal Maintenance Paid Once the Court Has Ordered It?

If a court orders that one party pays spousal maintenance to the other, the court will typically enter an order to have a specific amount of the paying spouse’s income withheld by their employer in order to be paid to the receiving spouse.

Can a Prenuptial Agreement Provide For Alimony in a Divorce?

Yes, a prenuptial agreement can provide for alimony in a Texas divorce. You can also choose to incorporate information about limitations regarding spousal support in terms of the amount, duration, and terms if a divorce were to take place.

Prenuptial agreements are contracts that a couple creates and signs in contemplation of marriage. These contracts typically cover what will happen in the case of divorce.

When it comes to alimony, prenups in Texas can include an agreement to:

  • Create a set level of spousal support
  • Waive Alimony
  • How cost of living adjustments will be dealt with for alimony
  • Any other matter that has an impact on alimony

Prenups are enforceable in Texas courts so long as the contract is:

  • In writing
  • Was created in contemplation of marriage
  • Not required to be supported by “consideration”
  • Signed voluntarily by both spouses
  • Not “unconscionable” (meaning egregiously unfair to one spouse)

Figuring out what you should ask for in a prenup can be difficult, as many people feel uncomfortable thinking about how assets and debts will be divided in the case of divorce before they even get married. However, prenuptial agreements can serve as a part of smart family planning and can help to avoid financial conflicts and issues down the road. This article takes a look at what you should ask for in a prenup.

Is It Hard to Get Alimony in Texas?

The state of Texas does not generally favor spousal maintenance, and the laws of the Lone Star State are quite narrow when it comes to court-ordered alimony when compared to other states. The spouse that is asking to receive spousal maintenance has to fulfill the qualifications listed above in order for a court to consider awarding them maintenance.

How Is Alimony Payment Enforced in Texas?

Setting up a contractual agreement or receiving a court order for maintenance is only the first step in receiving spousal support. If the supporting spouse isn’t making the payments they are required to either through court order or contractual obligation, you’ll want to learn about how alimony and maintenance are enforced.

Some consider the laws surrounding spousal maintenance in Texas to be the strictest in the entire country.

Enforcement of Spousal Maintenance

Courts have the ability to enforce spousal maintenance orders using their contempt powers, according to Section 8.059 of the Texas Family Code. Under Texas Government Code Sec. 21.002, when a party is held in contempt, it means that fines or jail time can be ordered by the court for a failure to comply.

Defenses for the spouse that is being held in contempt include:

  • Being unable to borrow the necessary funds successfully
  • Not being able to afford the amount due
  • Having no source to obtain the money legally
  • Lacking property that could be sold in order to cover the amount due

Paying for court-ordered spousal maintenance is only one of the financial considerations individuals have to think about when getting divorced. The entire process can be quite expensive, and it might be prudent to consider some of the cheap divorce options in Texas if you are concerned about how divorce will impact your financial situation.

Enforcement of Contractual Alimony

Contractual alimony or spousal support is not a court order, but is, instead, a contract. This means that the court’s power to enforce contractual alimony is more limited than its power to enforce spousal maintenance.

The court doesn’t have the power to hold the supporting spouse in contempt. This means that the supported spouse might be less successful in their attempt to enforce the contractual agreement. That being said, courts can enforce these contracts through specific performance or damages.

Income Withholding

The court can order income withholding for both court-ordered spousal maintenance and contractual alimony. Texas law states that the court can order income to be withheld from the paying spouse’s earnings, as well as when there is a voluntary agreement that has been entered into the court and approved by the court.

Can Alimony Be Awarded For a Common Law Marriage?

Common law marriage is viewed as equally valid and legitimate as a formal marriage under Texas law. This means that the process of getting divorced in a common law marriage is identical to the process of getting divorced in a traditional marriage.

That being said, it can sometimes be difficult to prove that a common law marriage existed in the first place. Couples can avoid this outcome by filing a declaration with the county clerk.

Other documents might be requested by the court to prove the marriage existed if couples don't declare their marriage with the court. Such documents include:

  • Tax returns
  • Lease agreements
  • Insurance policies

If there is a dispute regarding whether the marriage existed and no declaration was filed with the court, you might have to first go to court to prove the marriage before you can go through the divorce process.

It's worth noting that there is a two-year statute of limitations on this particular type of proceeding.

You can check out our complete guide to common law marriage in Texas here.

Is Alimony Mandatory in Texas?

No, neither alimony nor spousal maintenance is mandatory in the state of Texas. Judges have to follow strict guidelines if a spouse is requesting support through the court.

A specific set of criteria must be met for a spouse to qualify for spousal maintenance in Texas. Contractual alimony, on the other hand, is something that you and your spouse can agree on as a part of the divorce settlement. Since they aren't court-ordered, they don't face the same strict guidelines that govern spousal maintenance in Texas.

What Is Temporary Spousal Support?

Divorce doesn't happen overnight, which means that divorcing couples can be left in a strange middle ground where they are getting divorced but still technically and legally married. In order to ensure that both individuals are able to financially meet their basic needs during this time, a temporary spousal support order might be put in place.

These are payments that only occur for a set period of time. The court decides how long this time period is based on the reasonable amount of time it will take for the lower-earning spouse to find another means to become financially independent.

In some cases, a judge might give temporary spousal support to a lower-earning spouse for a period of time after the divorce is final.

In order to receive temporary spousal support, the lower-earning spouse needs to file a Motion for Temporary Orders. Courts will only award this type of support when they believe it is necessary and fair to do so. People who request temporary support are not always awarded it in Texas.

Are You Getting Divorced in Texas?

Divorce is one of the most stressful things that someone can go through, and the financial impact of divorce doesn't make the emotional difficulty associated with the process any easier. Not only is the divorce itself expensive, but you might be very concerned about your finances post-divorce.

Whether you're concerned that you don't have the ability to support yourself after marriage or you're worried about how much money you will need to give in the form of spousal maintenance or contractual alimony, getting a divorce can have a lasting impact on your finances.

One of the best things you can do to help cope with the process of divorce is to learn as much as possible about your rights and responsibilities under the law. While it might not be anyone's idea of a good time to read through legal articles on your day off, you'll find that the more you understand about the process the less fearful you are of it.

If you're searching for more resources to help you during the divorce process, be sure to check out our library of articles at 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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