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How does spousal maintenance (or alimony) work in Texas?

How does alimony work in Texas? Read on to learn what you need to know about how alimony, known as spousal maintenance, works in Texas.

evident Editorial Team
published
October 18, 2022
Texas flag blowing in the wind

If you’re going through a divorce in Texas, you may have questions about how alimony works.  

The first thing to know about alimony in Texas is that it's called “spousal maintenance.” Many states have replaced the term alimony in their laws, so what is commonly referred to as alimony is technically called spousal maintenance in Texas.  

This article provides an overview of spousal maintenance in Texas, including how it’s calculated, how long it lasts, and other key details you should know.

Key Takeaways

What is alimony?

Alimony is a payment from one spouse to the other during or after a divorce to provide financial support. As noted, the term alimony has been replaced in many states (such as New York), and Texas law refers to alimony as spousal maintenance or simply maintenance.

Texas has one of the strictest standards for awarding alimony. Unlike other states, Texas courts begin every case with the assumption that spousal maintenance is not warranted and only award spousal support when specific eligibility guidelines are met.

Texas law also limits the amount of spousal maintenance that can be awarded, and the reference point is typically whether the spouse can meet their basic needs.

As one example for contrast: Ohio spousal support is aimed at helping each spouse to continue living at a similar standard to the one they lived at during the marriage, which is a very different reference point than Texas uses.

Spousal maintenance vs. Contractual alimony in Texas

Another important note about alimony in Texas is that there is a difference between court-ordered spousal maintenance and contractual alimony (sometimes also called spousal support). 

Contractual alimony, which is discussed in greater detail below, is when both spouses agree to an alimony arrangement voluntarily and outside of the court process. Thus, Texas spousal maintenance guidelines may be instructive when negotiating contractual alimony, but they are not binding. Spousal maintenance, meanwhile, is decided by the courts according to Texas law.

How is spousal maintenance calculated in Texas?

Texas courts require a two-step process when determining spousal maintenance. 

  • First, the courts determine whether the requesting spouse is eligible to receive maintenance. The courts cannot order maintenance for a non-eligible spouse, although both parties could agree to contractual post-divorce support. 
  • Second, the court determines how much the requesting spouse will receive in spousal maintenance. Texas courts have full discretion over how much support a spouse can receive up to a maximum amount dictated by Texas law.

Who is eligible for spousal maintenance in Texas?

To be eligible for spousal maintenance in Texas, the requesting spouse must not have enough property to provide for their basic needs, plus one of the following criteria apply:

  • The requesting spouse cannot become financially independent due to a physical or mental disability
  • The marriage lasted for more than ten years, and the requesting spouse will not be able to earn enough income to meet their basic needs
  • The requesting spouse is the custodial parent of a child with a disability and thereby unable to work and earn sufficient income
  • The spouse from whom support is sought was convicted of an act of family violence against the requesting spouse or the couple’s children, either while the divorce was pending or within two years of the divorce filing

For cases where the marriage lasted more than ten years, Texas law requires the court to begin with the presumption that spousal maintenance is not appropriate. But if the requesting spouse can demonstrate that they’ve made reasonable efforts to become self-sufficient--through earning income or obtaining the education necessary to become independent during the divorce process--the court will proceed with a maintenance evaluation. 

What factors determine how spousal maintenance is awarded? 

After determining if spousal maintenance is appropriate, courts in Texas will calculate maintenance based on multiple considerations. 

Texas courts may consider numerous factors when considering the amount, duration, and method of payment for spousal maintenance, including: 

  • A spouse’s ability to provide for their reasonable needs
  • The education level and employment skills of each spouse
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The age, employment history, earning ability, and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance
  • The contribution of a spouse as a homemaker
  • The contribution of one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse
  • The property each spouse brought to the marriage
  • Marital misconduct such as adultery by either spouse
  • Any history or pattern of family violence 

For a more complete list of factors, see what courts will consider in Section 8.052 of the Texas Family code

How much spousal maintenance does Texas award?

Unlike most other states, Texas sets a cap on how much spousal maintenance can be awarded. In Texas, the courts will not order spousal maintenance awards greater than (1) $5,000 a month or (2) 20% of the spouse's average monthly gross income, and the court will choose whichever amount is smaller.

How long does spousal maintenance last in Texas?

How long spousal maintenance awards last in Texas is limited by law to a specific number of years based on a few factors including how long the spouses were married. 

The following guidelines set out the duration of spousal maintenance in Texas depending on the length of the marriage: 

  • Five years of spousal maintenance: if the spouses were married less than ten years and the supporting spouse was convicted of family violence; OR if the spouses were married for 10-20 years 
  • Seven years of spousal maintenance: if the spouses were married for 20-30 years
  • Ten years of spousal maintenance: if the spouses were married for over 30 years

Texas law generally requires judges to award spousal maintenance for the shortest duration reasonably necessary. Limited exceptions apply if: 

  • The requesting spouse has a physical or mental disability 
  • The requesting spouse is the custodial parent of a young child from the marriage
  • A different compelling circumstance impedes their ability to earn sufficient income

When does spousal maintenance in Texas end?

Spousal maintenance will end before the time periods noted above if:

  • Either party dies
  • The supported spouse remarries
  • The supported spouse cohabitates with a third party while in a relationship
  • Upon review or a new order from the court

Can you modify spousal maintenance agreements in Texas?

Yes, Texas courts allow parties to modify maintenance awards. But the court will modify a maintenance order only if there has been a substantial and material change of circumstances.

For instance, if the spouse making maintenance payments becomes ill or loses their job, they could request to decrease the amount they are obligated to pay. And if the paying spouse was able to return to work and again able to make the original payments, the supported spouse could request that spousal maintenance be restored to the original order. 

Generally, though, Texas law does not allow for modification of spousal maintenance that would increase the amount or the duration above what was established in the original court order. (For example, if a Texas court ordered maintenance payments of $2,000 per month, the arrangement could never be modified to require maintenance payments greater than $2,000). 

And keep in mind – until a judge grants a request to modify spousal maintenance, the supporting spouse must continue to follow the original court order.

What is Contractual Alimony in Texas?

Contractual alimony is a voluntary agreement between two spouses for one spouse to provide support to the other. As noted above, because it is an out-of-court agreement between you and your spouse, contractual alimony is not necessarily constrained by Texas law. 

In other words, you and your spouse could agree to alimony payments greater than the maximum set by Texas law. Or you could agree to payments that last longer than would be allowed if a court decided maintenance. 

Texas contractual alimony - enforcement

What happens if a spouse stops making the contractual alimony payments they agreed to? 

Remember, spousal support in Texas is an arrangement that the parties agree to outside of court, whereas spousal maintenance in Texas is ordered by a court. 

Thus, if someone stops making spousal maintenance payments, there are specific forms of recourse available because that person is violating a court order. 

But if a former spouse stops making contractual alimony payments, the recourse available is a civil suit under contract law. 

Pros and cons of contractual alimony

There are two primary benefits of contractual alimony compared to court-ordered spousal maintenance. 

First, contractual alimony gives the parties greater flexibility to shape the arrangement to meet their needs and preferences. Perhaps you and your spouse would like to agree to larger payments than would be allowed under Texas alimony laws or to have payments that would last longer. The strict limitations of spousal maintenance do not apply to contractual alimony arrangements. 

Second, it can save you time, money, and headache to reach your own agreement instead of fighting things out in court. Many divorces are contentious, and reaching an agreement with your spouse is not always possible. But when it is, it is often preferable to the alternative. 

Meanwhile, the main potential downside to contractual alimony is the difference in enforcement noted above. If a spouse stops making payments under a court-ordered spousal maintenance arrangement, they are violating a court order which opens up various options for recourse. Enforcement for contractual alimony, on the other hand, is a matter of contract law.

Frequently asked questions about divorce in Texas

What is alimony in Texas called?

Alimony in Texas is called spousal maintenance. Like many states, the term alimony is no longer used in the relevant Texas laws. 

That said, people commonly refer to alimony, spousal maintenance, and spousal support interchangeably when discussing financial support from one spouse to another, even though these terms can technically mean different things.

Is it hard to get alimony in Texas?

Yes, Texas has some of the strictest guidelines surrounding alimony. It is more difficult to get alimony (or spousal maintenance) in Texas than in other states. Texas alimony law also sets strict parameters regarding the amount to be paid and the duration of payments.

The bottom line on spousal maintenance in Texas

So, how does alimony work in Texas? Let’s recap the main takeaways. 

Alimony in Texas is called spousal maintenance and involves one spouse making payments to the other to provide financial support. 

Texas courts go through a two-step process when considering spousal maintenance – (1) the court will determine whether the requesting spouse is eligible for maintenance; (2) the court will consider the details of any spousal maintenance award, including the amount and duration of payments. 

It can be hard to get alimony in Texas, and examples of the strict standards set out by Texas law include:

  • Maintenance is only awarded if a spouse cannot provide for their basic needs
  • There is a maximum amount of maintenance that can be awarded ($5,000 or 20% of the paying spouse’s earned income)
  • There are maximum limits on how long spousal maintenance lasts in Texas depending on the length of the marriage and other factors

You can modify spousal maintenance arrangements in Texas, but only if there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances. 

But remember – if you can agree to contractual alimony with your spouse, it may provide more flexibility than court-ordered spousal maintenance and also save you time, money, and the stress involved with court proceedings.