Alimony (really Court-Ordered Spousal Maintenance) Changes on the Horizon

Any blog about Texas “alimony” should first state that in Texas, courts do not order “alimony,” courts order “spousal-maintenance.”  Alimony, or post-divorce spousal payments, must be agreed to by the parties while the court may order spousal-maintenance in some situations.

In the past, Texas required a spouse to either have been married for 10 years or have suffered domestic violence within the past two years to even be considered a candidate for spousal maintenance.  Even then, maintenance was limited to three years and the lesser of $2,500.00 or 20% of the payor’s gross income.

The legislature recently changed this by re-writing maintenance section of the Texas Family Code.  These changes take effect September 1, 2011, and hit three main areas, the 10-year bar language, the duration and the amount of maintenance.

10-Year Bar

The legislature saw fit to change the language in the 10-year requirement to state the court may order maintenance if a spouse is unable to provide for their minimum reasonable needs due to an incapacitating physical or mental disability or if the spouse is taking care of a child that requires substantial care and personal supervision due to a physical or mental disability and prevents the spouse from earning sufficient income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs.  This is slightly different wording than used before and may possibly lead to a more lenient view of when spousal maintenance is appropriate.

Duration of Maintenance

  1. Maintenance can now be ordered for up to five years if the marriage lasted less than 10 years and the payee was the victim of domestic violence within the past two years, has an  incapacitating physical or mental disability or if the spouse is taking care of a child that requires substantial care and personal supervision due to a physical or mental disability and prevents the spouse from earning sufficient income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs.  The five-year maximum will also apply to a marriage that lasted more than 10 years but less than 20 years.
  2. If the marriage lasted between 20 – 30 years, the court can order maintenance up to 7 years.
  3. Finally, if the marriage lasted 30 years or more, the court can order up to 10 years of maintenance.

Amount of Maintenance

  1. The legislature also saw fit to change the maximum maintenance a court could order.  Now the amount is the lesser of $5,000.00 or 20 % of the payor’s monthly income.
Other Considerations
Attorneys and parties should keep in mind that the factors determining maintenance still apply and can be used by either side in helping the court determine if and how much maintenance is appropriate.  This includes the amount of community property that the spouses will have post divorce and if that property is enough to provide for their minimum reasonable needs with the income each will likely have.  Finally, the court retains jurisdiction to review the maintenance order and a party can file to have that order reviewed upon proper showing of a material and substantial change in circumstances of one of the parties or a child of the marriage.

About CJ.Harding
Chris believes one of the most important aspects of family law is seeing the 'big picture.' This means understanding the law, the facts of your case and the range of possible outcomes. Only after knowing each of those can an attorney convey the risks and potential results and guide you to make the right decision for your case, your life and your family. He understands every person and every case is unique. Chris will advocate for the very best possible result in your case. He has worked on a variety of family law cases, including tracing of assets, property division of estates worth more than one million dollars, international and interstate child custody issues, enforcement actions as well as pre-marital and post-marital agreements. Chris continues to be a student of the Law and helps to educate others by maintaining the "Hot Topics" section of the Firm web site, which features current issues in Texas family law. Topics have included how a bankruptcy can affect child support and the differences between alimony and court ordered spousal maintenance. Chris joined the firm after graduating cum laude from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. During his time at SMU, Chris competed in numerous mock and moot competitions and placed nationally. Chris is a native Texan, growing up in the Houston area and completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

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