When a married couple files for divorce in Texas, there are three separate types of spousal support that an individual may be able to request. These include:

In most Texas divorce cases, an award for temporary spousal support will be issued either before or during the divorce proceedings. In comparison, spousal support payments associated with a contractual alimony agreement or a court order for spousal maintenance will be issued after the divorce is finalized.

Specifically, a contractual alimony agreement for spousal support is entered into voluntarily and paid in accordance with the terms of the divorcing couple’s agreement. The divorcing spouses may negotiate what to include in the agreement. These include the amount of alimony to be paid, how long alimony will be paid for, conditions that may terminate or modify alimony, and what to do in the event of a dispute or missed alimony payment.

On the other hand, court-ordered spousal maintenance is only available in certain circumstances. If ordered, the supporting spouse will have no choice, but to pay it or else they can face serious legal consequences, such as jail time or fines.

Some reasons that may entitle a spouse petitioning for alimony to receive court-ordered spousal maintenance include:

  • If the marriage lasted for ten years or longer and the spouse was unable to earn sufficient income to support themselves after making an effort to secure work;
  • If the petitioning spouse became incapacitated or developed a disability during the marriage that made it impossible for them to support themselves;
  • If the divorcing couple have a child with a special medical condition that requires more attention and prevents the petitioning spouse from being able to earn enough income to support themselves and simultaneously take care of their child; and/or
  • The supporting spouse has been charged and convicted of domestic or family violence.

Also, unlike a contractual alimony agreement that allows a divorcing couple to set their own terms, court-ordered spousal maintenance is capped by a state statute, which provides that a supporting spouse cannot pay more than $5,000 per month in alimony or 20% of the supporting spouse’s average gross income per month (whichever of the two is lower).

Establishing Spousal Support After Divorce Is Final

Generally speaking, a former spouse cannot file a petition for spousal support after a divorce is finalized. Instead, the petitioning spouse must ask the court to include an order for spousal support payments during their divorce proceeding. If the petitioning spouse fails to do this before the court issues a divorce decree, then they will most likely be barred from collecting spousal support payments.

However, there are some circumstances where this rule may not apply. For instance, a petitioning spouse may qualify for court-ordered spousal maintenance if they can prove that they will not have enough income or property to support their reasonable needs. In addition, the petitioning spouse will also have to prove that one or more of the following situations exists:

  • That the supporting spouse has been convicted of domestic violence charges or has received a sentence of deferred adjudication within two years of filing for a divorce;
  • The petitioning spouse has developed a mental or physical impairment that has prevented them from earning enough income to financially support themselves;
  • The petitioning spouse provides care for the couple’s child who has special medical needs that makes it difficult to both care for the child and earn enough income to support their own needs; and/or
  • That the petitioning spouse has relied on the other spouse for financial support for ten or more years and is unable to find employment that will be enough to sustain their reasonable needs without additional financial assistance.

If one or more of the above circumstances can be proven by the petitioning spouse, then the court will calculate the amount of spousal maintenance by evaluating specific factors, such as:

  • The financial condition of each spouse after the divorce;
  • Whether one of the spouse’s supported the other spouse during the marriage, which enabled them to obtain a degree or special job skills that increased their earning power;
  • The age, physical health, and mental well-being of each of the spouses;
  • The time it would take for the petitioning spouse to develop the necessary skills or get the education required to secure a job that would allow them to gain financial independence;
  • The ability of the supporting spouse to pay alimony, child support, and take care of themselves; and
  • Whether either spouse engaged in marital misconduct or disposed of funds or assets during the couple’s marriage.

Additionally, it is important to note that a former spouse cannot simply request court-ordered spousal maintenance if they are unable to support themselves due to losing their job or becoming incapacitated after getting a divorce. Instead, they may have to seek relief by filing a claim with a state benefits program.

When Will Spousal Support End?

As previously mentioned, there are three ways to obtain spousal support in Texas: either by entering into a contractual alimony agreement, by receiving an order for spousal maintenance from a local Texas family court, or by filing a petition for temporary spousal support.

When a divorce case involves spousal support that is paid in accordance with a contractual alimony agreement, then the terms of the divorcing couple’s agreement will set forth when and how spousal support payments will terminate. If the spouses fail to create a provision that provides when spousal support payments should end, then a supporting spouse may be required to pay alimony to the receiving spouse for an indefinite period of time.

On the other hand, if the divorce case involves an order for spousal maintenance, then that order will dictate the duration of spousal support payments. In general, court-ordered spousal maintenance is deemed to be terminated by law if any of the following situations occur:

  • The supporting spouse or receiving spouse dies;
  • The receiving spouse remarries;
  • The receiving spouse moves in with a new significant other; and/or
  • Various other circumstances that may require a court to modify or terminate the order for spousal maintenance.

Some other guidelines that can affect the duration of spousal support may include the following:

  • If the grounds for issuing an award for spousal support is due to domestic or familial violence and the divorcing couple was only married for ten years, then the receiving spouse may only collect spousal support for no longer than five years by law.
  • If the basis for issuing spousal support was either because the receiving spouse has a physical or mental impairment or the divorcing couple’s child has a disability, then the receiving spouse may collect spousal support for as long as such medical conditions exist or such parties would be eligible to receive the payments.
  • If the divorcing couple was married between twenty and thirty years, then the receiving spouse may only collect spousal support for no longer than seven years.
  • If the divorcing couple was married for thirty years or longer, then the receiving spouse would be eligible to collect spousal support for no longer than ten years.

Additionally, if a receiving spouse was only collecting temporary spousal support, then this type of spousal support would end as soon as the divorce decree is issued and all other marital disputes are settled.

Should I Contact a Divorce Lawyer?

You may want to consider consulting with a Texas divorce lawyer if you have a contentious relationship with your spouse, are involved in a dispute over spousal support payments, and/or need to modify or terminate an existing spousal support order. You may also want to hire a Texas family lawyer if you have questions about your right to collect spousal support under Texas law and if you need assistance with filing a petition for alimony.

A lawyer who has experience in handling divorce cases in your area will be able to advise you of the relevant laws and procedures that you must comply with, as well as can help you file a petition for divorce that includes a request for alimony. Your lawyer can also assist you in building a case as to why you may be entitled to spousal support and in gathering evidence to support your claim.

In addition, your lawyer can help you draft, review, and file any necessary legal documents with the appropriate court. Lastly, your lawyer can also provide legal representation in court or at any other proceedings related to your case as well.