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What Determines Spousal Support in a Divorce?

Apr 26, 2022 | Child and Spousal Support

Filing a divorce means moving towards a new life with new financial arrangements. Spousal support is one of the more nuanced areas of divorce law. As you prepare to negotiate with your spouse, you should gain a clear understanding of when it is appropriate and how it is determined. Working with a divorce attorney in Sugar Land, TX or Houston, TX can help clarify these issues.

What Is Spousal Support?

Spousal support, sometimes referred to as alimony or spousal maintenance, is the amount of money one partner is required to pay the other on an ongoing basis following a divorce. Usually, the receiving spouse collects it monthly. In Texas, alimony is rare and courts proceed with the assumption that it will not be necessary unless one spouse is unable to support themselves or has been abused by the other.

What Determines Spousal Support in a Divorce?

When you are going through a divorce, there are two key questions concerning spousal maintenance that must be answered. First, does either partner qualify? Second, if one spouse qualifies, how much must they receive every month?  In order to qualify for spousal maintenance, the receiving spouse must be able to demonstrate their need for it. They must show either that they require ongoing financial support for their basic needs or that the paying spouse physically abused them.

Lack of Financial Independence

Spousal maintenance can be granted if one spouse suffers from a physical or mental disability that prevents him or her from earning enough money to stay financially independent. Additionally, one spouse may qualify if he or she cares for at least one minor child who is disabled.

Apart from disability, spousal maintenance could be ordered based on the length of the marriage. If one spouse lost or did not gain job skills during a marriage that lasted more than 10 years, the other spouse might be required to pay maintenance for a fixed period of time to allow the first spouse to prepare for a career. In this situation, courts can consider homemaking a contribution to the marriage.

Marital Misconduct

If one spouse suffered physical abuse within two years of the divorce or during the divorce process, he or she might be eligible for spousal maintenance on the basis of marital misconduct. Abuse directed at the receiving spouse’s children is also considered grounds for spousal maintenance.

A Note on Marital Misconduct

Inversely, marital misconduct could disqualify an otherwise eligible spouse from receiving alimony if he or she was the perpetrator of abuse. In addition to physical abuse, having an extramarital affair could sway a court against granting spousal maintenance.

Determining the Size of Payments

Divorce law in Texas specifies that the division of assets should be “just and fair”. When determining how much money one spouse is required to pay towards spousal maintenance, courts look at the financial health and earning potential of both spouses.

The Value of Assets and Earning Potential

The value of each spouse’s non-community assets, or the assets brought into the marriage, factors into the determination of spousal maintenance along with each spouse’s monthly income. Future earning potential is determined by assessing age, health, and level of education. Courts will also consider whether or not the paying spouse financed any of the receiving spouse’s education while they were married.

The Severity of Marital Misconduct

If marital misconduct such as physical abuse, adultery, or cruelty is a part of the divorce, it could increase the amount the at-fault spouse is required to pay the other. While adultery is not considered in determining eligibility for alimony, if one spouse is eligible for other reasons, adultery in the paying spouse can increase the amount to be paid. Courts are instructed to use their best judgment when calculating how much the misconduct should increase payments.

Establishing the Limit of Spousal Maintenance

Texas is one of the only states that puts an upper limit on maintenance payments. The payments cannot exceed $5,000 per month or 20% of the paying spouse’s income.

Other Questions About Spousal Maintenance

How Is It Collected?

The arrangements for paying and collecting spousal maintenance can vary. In some situations, a court will order it to be taken directly out of the paying spouse’s paycheck and forwarded to the receiving spouse. This is a form of wage garnishment, and it is an exception to Texas laws that otherwise prohibit this method of collecting debts.

How Long Does It Continue?

In the case of a spouse who is unable to self-support due to a disability, spousal maintenance could continue indefinitely. When it is granted as a temporary measure to assist one spouse in gaining job skills, the duration depends on the length of the marriage. If it is for the purpose of supporting a disabled child, it could go on for as long as the child remains a minor who needs care.

In all of these circumstances, the alimony could be subject to a periodic court review. If the conditions meriting the spousal maintenance change, a revision might be ordered.

How Does the Length of a Marriage Affect the Duration of Payments?

The length of the marriage is only important when one spouse needs maintenance to develop job skills. For couples married more than 10 years but less than 20, the normal duration is five years. If a couple were married between 20 and 30 years, the payment duration is usually seven years. For couples married for more than 30 years, payment duration is 10 years.

How Does Physical Abuse Affect the Duration?

For couples married less than 10 years, alimony could be ordered with a duration of five years if the paying partner physically abused the other. Marital misconduct does not normally increase the duration of alimony payments between couples who were married for more than 10 years.

How Are Taxes Paid?

The tax rules around alimony payments in Texas have changed recently. Money owed to the government on alimony is now the responsibility of the paying spouse. Alimony payments are not considered taxable income for the recipient, and they cannot be deducted by the payer.

Contact a Divorce Attorney in Sugarland, TX or Houston, TX

The laws concerning spousal maintenance are complex and dependent on subjective factors. In any divorce case, it is best to work with a qualified attorney who can lend some objectivity to an otherwise emotionally charged process. When factors such as disability, child support, and marital misconduct come into play, it is especially important to work with someone who knows the law.

Every person going through a divorce is entitled to a just outcome. Determining spousal maintenance is a lengthy process that could involve working with experts and amassing evidence to show that it is or is not appropriate. The subjectivity of a potential court ruling means that having an attorney with strong presentation and negotiating skills is key. To learn more about top legal services in Sugarland, TX or Houston, TX, contact Skillern Firm, today!