Philosophically, spousal support is one of the most divisive issues in a marriage dissolution. Some people, mostly obligees, or people receiving support, claim alimony is critical to a just and right division of the marital estate. Others, mostly obligors, or people paying support, claim alimony is basically a financial penalty. There isn’t much case law to provide guidance in this area. Texas lawmakers did not pass a spousal support law until the 1990s.
The Big Three of Texas alimony laws are the presumption, alimony caps, and factors determining the amount and duration of payments. Both obligors and obligees have important legal and financial rights in each area. Unless an alimony lawyer in Dallas stands up for these rights, the other spouse could easily run roughshod over them.
The Alimony Presumption
In many states, alimony is almost always a component of a property settlement agreement or judgment. But in Texas, a majority of divorces do not include alimony awards, mostly because the obligee does not qualify under the very strict requirements in the Texas Family Code. These requirements are:
- Family violence conviction, not an arrest, against the spouse or children.
- Obligee is the full-time custodian of a disabled child, or suffers from an “incapacitating” disability, and is therefore unable to work.
- The marriage lasted at least ten years and the obligee “lacks the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs.”
Most people qualify under the final bullet point. However, the average length of a marriage ending in divorce is just over seven years. And, state law defines “minimum reasonable needs” as living above the poverty line. The standard of living during the marriage is irrelevant, at least on this point.
Spousal Support Limits
The amount of support is a maximum of $5,000 a month or 20% of the obligor’s average gross income, whichever is less. Gross income for alimony purposes might be different from gross income for income tax purposes.
The duration caps are a bit more complicated, so strap yourselves in. Payments last a maximum of:
- Five years if the marriage lasted less than twenty years.
- Ten years if the obligee qualified under the domestic abuse clause.
- Seven years if the marriage lasted between twenty and thirty years.
- Ten years if the marriage lasted longer than that.
Judges must set the amount and duration of payments at the absolute minimum required for the obligee to meet minimum reasonable needs.
Factors to Consider
So much for the overall caps and presumptions. In terms of the specific amount and duration of payments, the following factors apply:
- Relative earning capacity of each spouse.
- Noneconomic contributions to the relationship.
- Length of the marriage.
- Fault in the breakup of the marriage.
Most of these factors, except for spousal misconduct, involve the obligor’s ability to pay and the obligee’s economic needs. Since these two things change, the amount and duration of payments are both subject to subsequent modification. The requesting party usually has the burden of proof to show that financial circumstances have materially, substantially, and permanently changed.
Count on a Compassionate Frisco Alimony Attorney
Alimony usually is unavailable in Texas, but there are many exceptions. For a confidential and initial free consultation with an experienced Frisco alimony attorney, contact Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, LLP by going online or calling (214) 273-2400. After-hours and virtual visits are available.
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