Two of the biggest things on any divorcing couple’s mind are alimony and spousal support. Many people and even lawyers use these terms interchangeably. However, under Texas law they have a slightly different meaning. If you are facing divorce it is important to know the difference.
In most states ‘alimony’ refers to post-divorce payments made from one former spouse to another. Alimony comes in the following forms:
Alimony may be mandatory or a voluntary agreement made by the divorcing couple. The requirements of mandatory alimony payments differ from one state to another.
Spousal support means much the same thing as alimony. It refers to payments made from one spouse to another. However, there are only two types of spousal support payments in Texas divorces.
The Texas Family Code refers to this as ‘statutory spousal maintenance’.
Technically, alimony and spousal support are the same thing. They both refer to post-divorce payments that help support the spouse with fewer resources. But its a little more complicated than that. The only form of court ordered post-divorce payment in Texas is statutory spousal maintenance, or spousal support. The judge cannot order you or your spouse to pay alimony. The judge can, however, order you to pay spousal support.
Spousal support is similar to what other states refer to as rehabilitative alimony. The intention of these payments being to give the other spouse time to finish their education or find gainful employment.
In Texas, the standards for eligibility for spousal support are pretty narrow. If you are seeking support you must prove one of the following to be eligible:
Spousal support only covers the other spouse’s ‘minimum reasonable need’. This is different from maintaining ‘the standard of living to which the spouse is accustomed’. The law intends for spousal support to cover rent or a mortgage, utilities, and other costs of living.
While in years past it was mostly stay at home moms who qualified for support, this is now no longer the case. More and more men are choosing to be stay-at-home parents or in some cases are not the primary income earner. As a result, it is increasingly more common for Texas judges to award spousal support to eligible men.
If you are seeking spousal support you must make every reasonable attempt to be financially independent. This may include completing training or getting a new certification. You may need to go back to school or begin taking college classes. If you are able to work you must prove you are seeking gainful employment during the proceedings. This is due to the fact that Texas law assumes that spousal support is not appropriate. As the spouse seeking support, it is on you to prove you need the support while you improve your financial situation. Failure to do so will hurt your case.
There are strict guidelines for how long your spousal support payments will last. In most cases spousal support is limited to:
There, however, are some exceptions. Payments may continue for the foreseeable future if the other spouse is mentally or physically disabled. They may continue for a longer period if they are the custodial parent. They may also continue if there is some other compelling reason that proves the spouse needs continued financial support. If this is the case, the court may order a periodic review to assess the need for ongoing payments.
An order of spousal support will end early if:
A judge can change the terms of your payments if your circumstances have changed. You must report changes to the court so a judge can review your case. A spousal support order is enforceable in the same way that child support is enforceable. Failure to pay results in the same legal repercussions.
Texas is unique in that the Texas Family Code limits the amount of support the court can order. There are many factors the court will consider when calculating your payment. Regardless, your payment will not exceed $5,000 a month, or 20% of the paying spouse’s income. The court will choose whichever amount is lower. The court will also take into consideration how much the other spouse is able to pay in support. Just because they can prove they need $5,000 a month does not mean that is how much you will have to pay.
Whether you settle through mediation or through a divorce trial, you no doubt will have questions about spousal support. Divorce is difficult, but it should not lead to financial crisis. Alimony or spousal support can make the difference between struggling and thriving after divorce. Safeguard your financial future with the advice of an experienced family law attorney like those at Wilson & Associates Law.