The question of spousal maintenance, or alimony, can pose a significant concern in many Texas divorces. Higher earners worry about having to pay a large chunk of their income for the foreseeable future, while lower earners may have questions about what to expect.
Couples may sidestep litigating this issue by having an agreement in place, whether stemming from a prenuptial agreement or divorce negotiations. Unlike child support, a valid agreement can settle the question of spousal maintenance in any way the divorcing couple sees fit. When the issue of spousal maintenance comes before the court, Texas law sets forth a two-step process to determine whether one of the spouses should get maintenance, how much and for how long.
First, the court needs to see whether the requesting spouse is eligible. To meet the requirement, this spouse must lack the property to support reasonable and minimal needs after the divorce decree is final. Thus, if a spouse has a fairly low income but will receive substantial property in the course of property division, he or she will be ineligible for maintenance.
In addition, one of three other things must be true:
- Either the higher earner was convicted or got a deferred disposition for domestic violence committed within the last two years before the divorce.
- The requesting spouse’s inability to earn a minimal income to support reasonable needs stems from a disabling condition or from the need to care for a child of the marriage who suffers from a disabling condition.
- The marriage lasted 10 years or longer.
Applying statutory factors
Just because a spouse meets the above eligibility requirements does not mean the court will actually award maintenance. The court examines several factors to determine the need for maintenance, the amount and the duration. These include the requesting spouse’s earning potential, ability to train or receive education for higher-paying work, health, length of the marriage, contributions to the marriage and misconduct that affected the marriage. In the absence of the requesting spouse’s disability or obligation to care for a disabled child, Texas law also limits the duration of court-mandated maintenance to no more than 10 years.