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The end of a marriage often leaves one spouse at a significant financial disadvantage. This usually occurs when one spouse stays home to care for children or run the household while the other spouse maintains full-time employment. To address such situations, Texas law allows the less-well-off spouse to seek spousal maintenance–also known as spousal support or alimony–from the other spouse as part of a divorce proceeding.

Alimony is often a hotly contested issue in divorce. A qualified San Antonio spousal support attorney can help you navigate this process. Attorney David J. Rodriguez has 30 years of experience in Texas family law and an exceptional track record dealing with alimony payments and spousal support issues.

When Is Alimony an Option in a Texas Divorce?

The Texas Family Code uses “spousal maintenance” to refer to spousal support or alimony, and in practice, the three terms are interchangeable. Only some people seeking divorce are eligible for spousal support in Texas. The Family Code sets certain threshold requirements. The spouse requesting maintenance must “lack sufficient property” following a divorce to provide “minimum reasonable needs.”

The spouse requesting alimony must also meet at least one of the following conditions:

  • Domestic Violence: The spouse who would pay alimony was convicted of, or received deferred adjudication for, a criminal act of domestic violence against the other spouse or the other spouse’s child. This only applies if the act of domestic violence occurred within two years of the date either spouse filed for divorce or while the divorce case is pending in court.
  • Physical or Mental Disability: The spouse seeking alimony cannot earn sufficient income to support their minimum reasonable needs due to a physical or mental disability, the need to care for a child who suffers from a physical or mental disability.
  • Length of Marriage: The parties were married for at least ten years, and the spouse requesting alimony cannot now earn sufficient income.

How Does a Texas Court Determine Spousal Support?

Once a spouse establishes they are eligible for alimony, the court must determine the nature, amount, duration, and manner of such payments. A judge will consider several relevant factors, including but not limited to:

  • The spouse’s financial resources once the divorce becomes final;
  • The spouse’s age, employment history, and earning ability;
  • The spouse’s physical and emotional condition;
  • The spouse’s level of education and employment skills;
  • The spouse’s ability to obtain additional training to become employable;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The spouse’s contribution as a homemaker during the marriage;
  • The spouse’s contribution to the other spouse’s education, training, or increased earning power;
  • The spouse’s ability is required to pay alimony to provide for both spousal and child support.

When determining alimony, a court can also consider a spouse’s fault in causing the marriage breakdown. For example, a judge can consider a spouse’s adultery, cruel treatment, or misuse of marital property for their purposes.

In deciding the precise amount of alimony, a person cannot be obliged to pay more than $5,000 per month or 20 percent of their average monthly gross income, whichever is lower. Gross income includes wages, salaries, interest, dividends, royalties, self-employment, employment benefits, and the spouse’s net rental income.

How Long Does Spousal Support Last in Texas?

Alimony cannot last indefinitely under Texas law. The Family Code limits the duration of a spousal maintenance order, which is generally tied to how long the marriage lasted. The basic schedule is as follows:

  • If the marriage lasted less than ten years and the spouse required to pay was convicted of a family violence crime, spousal maintenance cannot be for more than five years;
  • If the marriage lasted between 10 and 20 years, spousal maintenance could not be for more than five years;
  • If the marriage lasted between 20 and 30 years, spousal maintenance could not be for more than seven years;
  • If the marriage lasted 30 years or more, spousal maintenance could not be for more than ten years.

It is important to note that these are the maximum limits on the duration of an alimony award. In setting spousal maintenance for a specific case, a judge must select the “shortest reasonable period” that will enable the recipient spouse to earn sufficient income on their own to meet their minimum needs. This restriction does not apply. However, suppose a disability substantially diminishes the recipient’s earning capacity. In that case, they must care for an infant or young child born of the marriage, or there is some other “compelling impediment” to the spouse earning a living after the divorce.

Events that may occur subsequent to the divorce can prematurely terminate a spousal support obligation. Some common examples of this include:

  • Either the payor or the recipient dies;
  • The spouse receiving alimony remarries;
  • The spouse receiving alimony starts living with a third party as part of a dating or romantic relationship.

Can You Seek Modification of Spousal Support in Texas?

Either party can file a petition with the court seeking modification of an existing spousal maintenance order. The party seeking improvement must prove that there has been a “material and substantial change of circumstances” since the court entered the original order. And the original order remains in effect unless and until the judge approves a modification.

While a judge can modify an existing support order, the court cannot create a new support requirement for events that occur after the divorce is final. For example, suppose a former spouse loses their job or develops a disabling condition once the marriage ends. In that case, a judge cannot order the former spouse to start paying alimony when there is no prior obligation.

How Can Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements Affect Alimony Rights in Texas?

Many spouses enter into agreements before or after marriage determining certain legal rights in the event of a divorce. Such contracts are legally enforceable under Texas law, provided some conditions are met. For instance, a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement must be in writing–an oral contract is not sufficient–and the deal terms cannot be “unconscionable” or grossly unfair to one party.

With those caveats, however, it is common for spouses to use these kinds of agreements to either establish or waive a right to spousal support if the marriage ends in divorce. And even when no such deal is in effect before divorce proceedings begin, the parties are always free to negotiate alimony and other terms as part of settlement talks.

Speak with a San Antonio Spousal Support Attorney Today

Spousal maintenance can be one of the trickier issues to resolve in a divorce. Indeed, even after a judgment becomes final, it may be necessary to return to court to enforce or seek a modification of an existing support order. So it is always in your best interest to work with a qualified San Antonio spousal support lawyer who can guide you through the process and advise you of your rights and options. Contact the Law Office of David J. Rodriguez, PLLC, today at (210) 716-0726 to schedule a consultation.

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