Texas is arguably the hardest state in which to get alimony in divorce

While eligibility for spousal support is narrow and duration and amount restricted, marital misconduct may be taken into account in setting the award.

Spousal maintenance, traditionally called alimony, is the payment of monetary support from one ex-spouse to the other, and in Texas, as compared with most other states, the law severely restricts who is eligible for spousal support after divorce.

Although court-ordered alimony is difficult to get in Texas, the parties to a divorce may negotiate a contract for the payment of spousal support that contains terms more generous than a judge could order under the law. Because of the narrow grounds for spousal support in the divorce law, negotiation of alimony as a contractual obligation becomes an important consideration between divorcing spouses in Texas.

However, if the issue ends up before a Texas state court judge in a divorce proceeding, he or she does not have nearly as much discretion as judges in many other states do to craft alimony awards. First, the spouse who seeks support may not have sufficient property after divorce to provide for his or her "minimum reasonable needs" - so if he or she can pay for minimal living expenses, he or she is not eligible for alimony.

If minimum reasonable needs cannot be met independently by the spouse seeking support, one of these must also be true:

  • The payor spouse committed a family violence crime within two years before the divorce suit was filed or while it is pending against the other spouse or that spouse's child.
  • The recipient cannot earn enough money because of an "incapacitating physical or mental disability."
  • The marriage lasted at least 10 years and the recipient "lacks the ability" to earn enough to provide for minimum reasonable needs.
  • The recipient cannot earn enough because he or she will care for a child of the marriage, adult or minor, who needs "substantial care and personal supervision" because of physical or mental disability.

If eligibility is established, the court must look at "all relevant factors" in crafting the award of alimony, including 11 specific things listed in the law:

  • Each of the spouses' ability to meet his or her minimum reasonable needs
  • Each of their education and employment skills, how long it would take to improve these enough to earn sufficient money, and whether the education and training are available and feasible
  • Marriage length
  • Recipient spouse's age, work history, earning ability and health
  • Impact of either spouse's child support or maintenance obligations
  • Either of them having overspent; or destroyed, hid or fraudulently disposed of property
  • One spouse having contributed to the increased earning potential of the other
  • Property brought into the marriage by either of them
  • Homemaker contributions
  • Marital misconduct, including "adultery and cruel treatment" (a factor some states do not allow to be considered)
  • Family violence

Texas law also severely restricts the duration of a maintenance order depending on the basis for eligibility, length of marriage, time needed to become able to earn enough money for minimum reasonable needs, disability, custodial parent duties or "another compelling impediment" to earning enough for minimum needs.

Finally, the judge must restrict monthly alimony to the lesser of $5,000 or one-fifth of the paying spouse's average monthly gross income.

This only summarizes the main points of Texas alimony law, which is quite complex. Anyone facing divorce should speak with an experienced family lawyer for advice, representation and advocacy.

In the Houston area, Terry L. Hart, Attorney at Law, advocates for clients in matters of family law.