Spousal support is a common topic asked about by parties as they contemplate divorce or as they navigate a divorce. One spouse wants to know if they will receive spousal support, and one spouse wants to be sure they will not have to pay spousal support. In Texas, spousal support—or “spousal maintenance” as it is legally known—is not a foregone conclusion. There are very specific requirements governing first, eligibility for maintenance and then, extent of maintenance.
Texas requires that a spouse seeking maintenance meet two qualifications to be eligible for maintenance. First, the spouse must lack sufficient property once the divorce is final to provide for their minimum reasonable needs. Additionally, a second qualification must be met. This qualification has four alternative methods of satisfaction (any one standing alone is sufficient to satisfy the second qualification):
- The paying spouse must have been convicted of or received deferred adjudication for an act of family violence during the marriage or while the divorce suit was pending
- The spouse seeking maintenance must be unable to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her needs and this inability is due to:
a. Incapacitating physical or mental disability;
b. Responsibility as the custodian for a child of the marriage who requires substantial care and personal supervision due to physical or mental disability
- The spouse seeking maintenance must be unable to earn sufficient income to provide for her needs and the marriage lasted 10 years or more.
If the first qualification and one of the second qualifications cannot be met the spouse seeking maintenance will not be successful in their claim for maintenance.
If eligibility is established, this does not mean that the spouse seeking maintenance will automatically receive the requested maintenance. The court will look at a variety of factors to determine if an actual award of spousal maintenance is appropriate. After consideration of factors such as educational background, duration of marriage, employment history, infidelity, and others, the court has the power to rule that the requesting spouse receives no support, maximum support, or something in between.
Finally, if the court does order maintenance, there are limits on payment duration and amount that may be awarded. The duration limitations are as follows:
- Spouses qualify for up to 5 years of maintenance if they qualify for maintenance under scenario #1 or the marriage lasted between 10-19 years.
- Spouses qualify for up to 7 years if the marriage lasted between 20-29 years.
- Spouses qualify for up to 10 years if the marriage lasted 30 years or more.
- Spouses qualify for an indefinite aware if they qualify under scenario #2(a) or (b) as long as the underlying eligibility criteria continues to exist.
The court may only order monthly payments up to the lesser of $5,000 per month or 20% of the paying spouse’s average monthly income.