Spousal maintenance awards are not automatic, and Texas courts do not give spousal maintenance as liberally as many other states. However, Texas law changed in 2011 to allow judges to award maintenance for longer periods and in higher amounts. Spousal support is governed by Texas’ Family Code, which provides rules for dissolution of marriage concerning division of property, child custody and maintenance.
Texas courts divide property between spouses in a manner that is just and right, though not necessarily equally. Texas is a community property state, which means property acquired by spouses during their marriage is generally considered to be owned equally by both spouses. Property acquired by gift or inheritance and property acquired before the marriage is considered the separate property of the spouse who acquired it. Typically, only community property is eligible to be divided between spouses in their divorce. The court can award community property to favor one spouse when circumstances are appropriate, such as when one spouse does not qualify for spousal maintenance but needs more assets than a 50/50 split would give.
Spousal maintenance in Texas is awarded based on need, not to punish the other spouse for misbehavior. Texas courts can award spousal maintenance to either spouse, but only if the spouse seeking maintenance will lack sufficient property, including her own separate property, and cannot earn a sufficient income to provide for her own minimum reasonable needs. Since maintenance is intended to provide for a spouse’s needs, it can only be awarded for the minimum period for which it is necessary. For example, if the need is based on the receiving spouse’s lack of education, maintenance might only be awarded for the period of time required for the receiving spouse to obtain education necessary to support herself.
Before a Texas court can award spousal maintenance, the spouses’ circumstances must fit one of the authorized maintenance categories in the Texas Family Code. Typically, this means the spouse seeking maintenance is unable to earn sufficient income because of an incapacitating disability, has been married to the other spouse for at least 10 years, or is the custodian of the couple’s disabled child. All of these categories require that the spouse be unable to provide for his own minimum needs.
Amount of Maintenance
Once a Texas court determines a spouse is eligible for maintenance, it must use factors described in the Texas Family Code to decide how much to award and for how long. These factors include the education and employment skills of each spouse, the duration of the marriage, the earning capacity and employment history of the spouse asking for maintenance, the contributions of each spouse, domestic violence and marital misconduct. Based on these factors, the court will issue an order directing the amount of maintenance, how it is to be paid and how long it must be paid.
References & Resources
- Texas Constitution and Statutes: Family Code: Title 1: Subtitle B: Chapter 3: Subchapter A
- Texas Constitution and Statutes: Family Code: Title 1: Subtitle C: Chapter 8: Subchapter A
- Nichols Law, PLLC: Changes to Spousal Support in Texas
- Lifetime Planning: New Alimony Laws
- Raggio Family Law: Texas Marital Property Issues
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images