Many spouses in a divorce assume that spousal support is automatic or at a fixed rate like child support; however, that is not the case in Texas. In order to receive spousal support, which is different than alimony, a spouse must first qualify to receive it. Once a spouse has qualified, the court looks at additional factors to see how long the support order will remain in place.
Alimony vs. Spousal Support
People like to use the terms alimony and spousal support interchangeably, but they are two different concepts in Texas divorce cases. Alimony is agreed upon during divorce settlement negotiations. One spouse agrees to pay a certain amount to another spouse, either in a lump sum or in periodic payments, to offset some of the assets and liabilities in the marriage. Spousal support is requested by one spouse to the judge in the divorce proceedings, and the court determines whether and if it should be allowed.
Qualifying for Spousal Support
The spouse that is requesting support must qualify before it can be granted. The family courts in Texas cannot award spousal support to a non-qualifying spouse on its own. Under Texas law, a spouse will qualify for support if he or she lacks sufficient property once the divorce is final to provide for minimum reasonable needs. In addition, one of the two following scenarios must apply:
- The paying spouse must have been convicted or received deferred adjudication for an act of family violence. The act of violence must have been committed during the marriage (but not more than two years before the divorce was filed) or while the divorce is pending; or
- The spouse seeking support must be unable to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs. Additionally, the inability to earn must be due to an incapacitating physical or mental disability, responsibilities as the custodian of a child of the marriage with physical or mental disability, or has been married to the spouse for at least ten years.
Duration of Spousal Support
If the court decides to permit spousal support, the following boundaries have been set by Texas law to determine how long the order will last.
Up to 5 years of support: if the spouses were married to each other for less than 10 years and the eligibility of the spouse for whom support is ordered is established under the first scenario of qualification, or the spouses were married to each other for at least 10 years but not more than 20 years
Up to 7 years of support: if the spouses were married to each other for at least 20 years but not more than 30 years
Up to 10 years of support: if the spouses were married to each other for 30 years or more
In addition, the court is supposed to limit the duration of the support order to the shortest reasonable period that allows the spouse seeking support to earn sufficient income to provide for the spouse's minimum reasonable needs. The only exception is if the spouse's ability is substantially or totally diminished because of the physical or mental disability of the spouse, the duties as the custodian of an infant or young child of the marriage; or another compelling reason why.
Call a Texas Divorce Attorney Today
If you or someone that you know has questions about spousal support after a divorce and live in the Galveston, Houston, or surrounding area, let the experienced family law attorneys at The Law Office of Lori E. Laird, PLLC help. Call or contact the office today for a free and confidential consultation of your case.