Alimony can be one of the biggest issues of contention whenever two spouses in Texas decide to call it quits in their marriage. Not everyone is entitled to alimony payments, but in a bitter divorce, a spouse may try to get more alimony than they should or refuse to give a cent. Unless both spouses agree to the alimony terms in an uncontested divorce, a court will consider many factors to establish whether a spouse qualifies for spousal maintenance. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand your rights and how a family law firm can help your case.
What is Legal Alimony?
Legal alimony, properly called spousal support or spousal maintenance in Texas, typically arises after divorce. Legal alimony is court-ordered payments awarded to a spouse or former spouse in a legal separation or divorce that is meant to provide financial support to the party who earns a lower income.
The purpose of spousal maintenance is to ensure that the lower-income spouse has enough support to provide a similar standard of living to the one they enjoyed while married.
How is Alimony Determined in Texas?
Courts determine spousal maintenance on a case-by-case basis. There are several factors that courts will consider to receive spousal support payments.
Under Texas family law, the court may award spousal support for a spouse in the following cases.
Conviction or Deferred Adjudication
The spouse whose assistance has been requested was convicted of family violence or abuse within two years before a request for divorce.
Lack of Earning Capacity
The marriage should usually have lasted over ten years and the spouse who is seeking Texas alimony must meet any of these qualifications:
- Doesn’t have the means to provide support for their minimum needs
- Can’t support themselves through employment due to mental or physical disability
- Doesn’t have the skills within the labor market to take care of their minimum financial needs, for example, a spouse who has not worked in a long time and does not have the skills to get a job.
- Is the caretaker of a child who needs additional care due to mental or physical disability, and the caretaker can’t seek outside employment
A sponsored immigrant may request a court to order spousal maintenance under the Federal Poverty Guidelines provision. If the judge grants the request, they could receive spousal maintenance from their spouse until they earn 40 credits of work history or become a U.S. citizen.
Factors that Determine the Amount of Alimony Payments
If the requirements are met, and the court has decided that the spouse is eligible for alimony payments, the following factors can be used in determining the amount for spousal support.
- Financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance
- The time it would require for the supported spouse to get sufficient education so they can seek employment
- The ability of the spouse to meet their needs on an independent basis
- The length of the marriage
- Employment skills and education of both spouses
- The earning ability of the spouse seeking financial support, which includes their employment history, age, emotional stability, and physical condition
- The marital misconduct of a spouse seeking spousal maintenance
- Efforts of the spouse seeking spousal support to obtain employment counseling or education
- The comparative financial picture of both spouses includes retirement, separate property, benefits, insurance, etc.
- Any support one spouse has provided the other that may have increased their earning power
- The capacity of the spouse to provide support to meet their needs while also providing child support to the other parent
- Any unusual or excessive expenditures, destruction of property, or presumed concealment by a spouse
- The contribution to the family unit as a homemaker
- Property brought into their marriage
- Considerations for a spouse who is supporting a disabled child.
How Long Does Spousal Support Last in the State of Texas?
A family law judge must adhere to strict guidelines when determining the duration of the spousal maintenance award. Generally, the judge will almost always award alimony payments due to physical or mental disability or a parent who has child custody of a minor and needs child support.
In these cases, the spouse must continue to pay spousal maintenance indefinitely, provided that the conditions still exist. However, there can be periodic reviews of the order in the future.
In all other alimony orders, Texas law will limit spousal support to the following:
- Five years, if the marriage lasted under ten years and the payor has been convicted of family violence.
- Five years for marriages that lasted between 10 to 20 years.
- Seven years, if the marriages lasted between 20 to 30 years.
- Ten years, if the marriage has lasted 30 years or more.
If there are significant differences in incomes between the payor and receiving spouse, a judge may order temporary support. If the requesting spouse isn’t the custodial parent, Texas law states the judge should order spousal maintenance for the shortest reasonable duration.
Can an Alimony Order be Changed in Texas?
The payor, also known as the obligor, can reduce their payment amount by filing a motion to modify a court order. In this report, there must be material and substantial changes in circumstances, such as loss of employment, that affect the factors used by the judge to determine the amount of spousal maintenance.
Can Alimony in Texas be Enforced?
At the end of divorce cases, the judge will issue a final decree on issues such as property division and alimony. The court order will be placed to obligate both spouses to comply with the terms. If the other spouse refuses or fails to comply with the contractual maintenance, the court can enforce the order in a few ways.
Under the Texas Family Code, a court may enforce the alimony by issuing an order to withhold the disposable earnings of the payor. The withholding is limited to the period and amount of the court-ordered spousal support.
Liens on Property and Assets
The spouse who is scheduled to receive alimony can petition the court to place a lien on the other spouse’s bank accounts or property. These liens can cause stress to the financial situation of the other spouse, especially when the obligor can’t close transactions due to this limitation. Even if the obligor doesn’t make the payments, the lien will have a severe impact.
Attaching lines to their property and assets means that they can’t transfer the property title until delinquent payments are made. Similarly, liens placed on bank accounts mean those accounts are frozen, so they can’t withdraw funds during that time. Once the overdue payments are made, the limitations can be removed.
Contempt of Court
Contempt of court means when a person willingly disobeys the court orders. The individual who is convicted of contempt can be fined or jailed. However, the obligor does have affirmative defenses to such allegations, and a family law firm can help with such defenses.
The obligor must prove that they:
- Lacked the financial means to provide the spousal payments in the amount ordered
- Lacked real property or assets that could be mortgaged, sold, or pledged to raise the maintenance amount
- Attempted to borrow money to pay for spousal maintenance
Tax Implications for Alimony
The spouse paying maintenance must be aware of the potential tax requirements for alimony in Texas. These payments must be reported on the obligor’s tax returns. They are subtracted from their income as a deduction on line 31 of Form 1040. The obligor must include the recipient’s social security number on the tax form.
This allows the IRS to check the former spouse’s tax return to ensure they are reporting that they have received alimony as income. Spouses who receive alimony must pay taxes on spousal maintenance.
Spousal support payments are tax-deductible as long as these conditions apply:
- The alimony isn’t permanent
- The former spouses don’t file a joint tax return
- The payments are made by check, cash, or money order
- The former spouses aren’t living together
Call a Fort Worth Alimony Attorney to Help With Your Alimony Case
It’s imperative to work with a divorce lawyer that understands the details of the Texas alimony law. For example, Texas doesn’t recognize an absolute legal obligation for one spouse to support another. Family lawyers, along with divorce attorneys, can help you understand your right to spousal suppose.
If you’re in a situation where alimony can be helpful, it’s crucial to consult with a divorce attorney and alimony lawyer in Fort Worth as soon as possible. Divorce lawyers can help you draft an alimony agreement that best suits your needs. Whether you’re seeking alimony from a spouse or looking to modify an existing order, seeking legal counsel can help your case.
Our family law firm in Fort Worth, TX, or our office in Southlake, TX, helps both high-earning and low-earning spouses navigate through alimony disputes.
If you’re in the process of divorce in Texas, our alimony lawyer helps ensure your family’s best interests and protect your rights. Schedule your initial consultation today so you can discuss it with an attorney that has a history of family law representation.