More on Texas alimony: eligibility and amount
Texas spousal support statutes are specific and limiting.
Texas alimony law is among the most restrictive in the country, providing explicit eligibility, amount and duration limits. In a previous article, we discussed durational limits on Texas spousal support awards. In this piece, we will provide information about eligibility and award amounts.
These provisions of law apply when the judge determines alimony. The parties to a divorce may enter into an agreement providing their own terms, which can differ from those that would otherwise restrict the judge’s discretion.
Review of duration provisions
Except in two narrow circumstances involving severe mental or physical disability, Texas does not allow permanent, lifelong alimony awards. The two circumstances are:
- If the recipient cannot earn enough money to meet “minimum reasonable needs” because of “incapacitating physical or mental disability”
- If the recipient cannot earn that level of income because he or she provides “substantial care and personal supervision” to a child of the marriage because of the child’s physical or mental disability, whether the child is a minor or adult
Even when ongoing support is ordered on either of these two bases, if the recipient’s disability improves enough to allow him or her to earn sufficient income, or the recipient no longer cares for the child with the disabling condition or that disability improves enough to allow the recipient to earn enough, eligibility ends.
In all other circumstances, alimony duration is capped at:
- Five years for a marriage of 10 to 20 years or if under 10, eligibility is based on a family violence crime
- Seven years if the marriage lasted 20 to 30 years
- Ten years if the marriage lasted at least 30 years
Despite these caps, the judge can only order spousal support for the “shortest reasonable period” for the recipient to begin to earn enough money to provide for minimum reasonable needs, unless the spouse cannot do so because of disability, child care responsibilities or “another compelling impediment.”
The monthly support amount is capped at the lesser of $5,000 or one-fifth of the paying spouse’s average monthly gross income.
Before the judge even gets to duration and amount, he or she must determine whether eligibility exists at all. As compared to those of many other states, Texas judges have less discretion in this regard, as the Lone Star State has strict eligibility standards.
First, the potential recipient must be without enough property to meet his or her own minimum reasonable needs. Second, one of these must also be true:
- The potential payor committed a recent crime of family violence against the other spouse or that spouse’s child.
- The recipient cannot earn enough to provide for his or her own minimum reasonable needs because of incapacitating disability.
- The marriage lasted at least 10 years and the recipient does not have the ability to earn enough to provide for minimum reasonable needs.
- The recipient has custody of a child of the marriage, minor or adult, whose substantial care needs from a disability prevent the recipient from earning enough to provide for minimum reasonable needs.
If eligibility is met, the judge crafts the award considering “all relevant factors,” including those in a list of 11 such as each party’s ability to meet minimum reasonable needs; education, work skills and ability to obtain them; marriage length; marital misconduct; family violence; asset destruction or concealment; homemaker contributions; and more.
Family lawyer Roland Esparza of the Law Office of Roland R. Esparza, P.C., in San Antonio represents clients in divorce and family law matters across South Texas, including advocacy that concerns alimony issues.