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Is Texas an Alimony State? 3 Things to Know

Sophia Merton
November 27, 2023

You’ve probably heard that it’s easier in some states than others to be awarded alimony in a divorce. So, is Texas an alimony state? What should you expect in terms of paying or receiving alimony in relation to your divorce?

There are alimony laws on the books in all U.S. states, and Texas is no exception.

  • That being said, Texas is often considered one of the most difficult states when it comes to being awarded alimony.
  • Court-ordered spousal maintenance is only given out in specific circumstances.

However, you and your spouse are also able to agree to voluntary spousal support in your divorce agreement or prenuptial agreement.

Let’s take a look at what you need to know about alimony in Texas.

Is Texas an Alimony State?

Every U.S. state has its own laws regarding alimony, some of which are much more comprehensive than others. It’s, therefore important to understand the laws in your own state to gain a deeper understanding of whether you will be likely to receive or have to pay alimony.

stack of cash to be used for alimony in texas

It’s worth noting that the word “alimony” doesn’t appear in the Texas legal code– instead, the terms “spousal maintenance” and “spousal support” are used. In general, Texas is considered one of the most difficult states in which to be awarded alimony through the courts. Texas courts typically prefer that private contracts be used to create alimony agreements rather than having the court order such arrangements.

Understanding the Difference Between Spousal Maintenance and Spousal Support

Under Texas law, “spousal maintenance” and “spousal support” are two separate concepts. Let’s take a closer look at what distinguishes these two terms.

What Is Spousal Maintenance in Texas?

Spousal maintenance, under Texas law, is payments made from one spouse to the other as ordered by a court. Both spouses have the right to request maintenance as a part of their divorce proceedings. In order to actually be awarded spousal maintenance, however, very specific qualifications must be met.

woman counting cash to be used for alimony in texas

The only way a spouse will be awarded spousal maintenance is if they don’t have the resources they need to provide for their basic needs at the time of the divorce plus one of the following:

  • The marriage lasts for at least ten years, and the dependent spouse can’t meet their basic needs through the income they are able to earn
  • The spouse asking for spousal maintenance has a physical or mental disability that makes them incapable of earning the income they need to support themselves.
  • The spouse asking for maintenance is the custodial parent of a mentally or physically disabled child who requires substantial personal supervision or care to the extent that the spouse can’t work to earn an income.
  • The other spouse was convicted of domestic violence against their spouse or children either during the divorce proceedings or within two years of the paperwork being filed.

In Texas, the court's presumption from the get-go is that maintenance will not be necessary or appropriate. It then falls upon the requesting spouse to prove that they have, in good faith, tried to get the training or education they need to support themselves or have worked to earn enough income to be financially independent. At this point, the court will evaluate the maintenance needs of the spouse.

Some factors will be taken into account when determining whether one spouse should receive court-ordered spousal maintenance.

These include:

  • The employment skills and education level of both spouses
  • The financial resources that each party has access to after the property is split up
  • The training or education one spouse would need to become financially independent and the time necessary to obtain that training or education.
  • How feasible it is for the spouse to receive the education or training they need to support themselves
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The health and age of each spouse
  • The behavior of each spouse in the marriage

Courts will take into account any and all factors that they deem relevant when evaluating an individual for spousal maintenance.

How Long Do Spousal Maintenance Payments Last?

Spousal maintenance can be awarded under three different standards in Texas.

Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Spousal maintenance cannot continue for more than five years if the marriage lasted more than ten years and less than twenty years or if the maintenance was awarded due to the other spouse having a domestic violence conviction
  2. Spousal maintenance cannot continue for more than seven years if the marriage occurred for more than twenty years but less than thirty years.
  3. Spousal maintenance cannot continue for more than ten years if the marriage lasts thirty or more years.

What Is Spousal Support in Texas?

Also known as contractual alimony, spousal support results from a voluntary agreement made between both spouses. Rather than being ordered by the court, spousal support is something that is typically outlined in a divorce settlement or prenuptial agreement.

stack of bills to be used for alimony in texas

  • While the laws are very strict about who gets spousal maintenance and how much money they receive for how long, there’s a lot more wiggle room when it comes to spousal support in Texas.

In this circumstance, spouses can agree to a certain amount of spousal support as well as the duration of the payments. If the court accepts the contract that is made between the two spouses, it is then enforceable in the same way that other contracts are in the State of Texas. This document will be included in the Final Decree of Divorce.

Three Important Things to Know About Alimony and Spousal Support in Texas

Regardless of whether you are worried that you will be ordered to pay alimony or you are hoping you will receive it, there are three key things you’ll want to understand about spousal support and maintenance in Texas.

1. Qualifying for Spousal Maintenance Isn’t That Easy

To receive court-ordered spousal maintenance, very specific circumstances must be met. The most common way that an individual receives spousal maintenance in Texas is by fulfilling the qualification of having been married for ten years and not being able to meet basic needs.

envelope of cash to be used for alimony in texas

I’ve outlined the criteria for being awarded spousal maintenance in the section above entitled “What Is Spousal Maintenance?” It’s important to understand that you are not necessarily going to be awarded spousal maintenance even if you meet the qualifications. Instead, meeting the qualifications is necessary for moving forward with an evaluation to see if spousal maintenance is necessary.

2. Texas Courts Prefer Spousal Support Agreements to Spousal Maintenance

It is possible to receive spousal maintenance that is ordered by the court in Texas. However, the general preference of the courts is that these types of payments are agreed upon through a voluntary contract.

There are two contracts where alimony is typically agreed to as a part of a divorce:

  1. Prenuptial agreement
  2. Divorce settlement agreement

In an ideal scenario, you and your spouse could come up with an arrangement that works for both of you. This refers to both the amount of money being given from one spouse to the other as well as the duration of these payments. If you are drafting a divorce settlement agreement, it’s advisable to work with a lawyer.

3. Enforcement of Payments Differs Between Spousal Maintenance and Spousal Support

Spousal maintenance payments are, ultimately, more easily enforced than contractual spousal support.

  • If an individual stops making spousal maintenance or support payments ordered by the court, the court has the power to find that individual in contempt. This means that they could face fines or even jail time.

The important point, however, is that the court only has this power in relation to payments that are below the statutory limits. Periodic payments above the statutory limits are not within the purview of the court in terms of holding a party in contempt.

  • When it comes to enforcing contractual alimony (aka spousal support in Texas), the spouse who is supposed to be receiving payments can file a civil suit in an attempt to have the other spouse uphold their end of the deal. If courts don’t find that the original contract was “fair and equitable,” however, the courts won’t enforce the contract.

It is possible for damages to be awarded in the case of contractual alimony. That being said, wage garnishment isn’t allowed as a part of collecting alimony. This means it’s possible you won’t get the money you are owed even if you go through all the right steps to have the contract enforced.

Understanding Divorce Law in Texas

You can receive alimony in Texas, either in the form of court-ordered spousal maintenance or through a voluntary agreement between you and your spouse. Receiving spousal maintenance through the courts isn’t that easy in Texas, though, as you have to fit specific qualifications. In general, the courts prefer that payments made from one spouse to the other result from a voluntary contract between the two spouses.

Divorce is never easy, but you can make the whole process simpler by gaining a greater understanding of family law in your state. For more information about getting divorced in the Lone Star State, make sure you check out our Texas Divorce Laws blog!

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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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