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.
What is Alimony?
In most states ‘alimony’ refers to post-divorce payments made from one former spouse to another. Alimony comes in the following forms:
- Separation – Paid during a separation to help the spouse with fewer resources make ends meet.
- Temporary – Paid during the divorce proceedings.
- Rehabilitative – Paid for a specific period of time after the divorce. These payments allow a spouse with fewer resources time to become self-sufficient.
- Permanent – Paid indefinitely.
- Reimbursement – Paid when a spouse supported the other through college or a work related program that resulted in the spouse earning more money. The amount totals all or at least half of the cost of their education.
- Lump-Sum – Awarded instead of property or other assets the married couple accumulated.
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.
What is Spousal Support?
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.
- Temporary Spousal Maintenance – Temporary support payments made to a spouse with fewer resources during the divorce proceedings. These payments stop once the divorce is final.
- Spousal Maintenance – Paid for a specific period of time after the divorce. These payments allow a spouse with fewer resources time to become self-sufficient.
The Texas Family Code refers to this as ‘statutory spousal maintenance’.
What is the Difference Between Alimony and Spousal Support?
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.
Will I Have to Pay Spousal Support? Am I Eligible to Receive Support?
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:
- Your marriage of 10 or more years ended in a divorce in which one spouse lacks sufficient property to provide for their basic needs, and that spouse:
- Cannot support themselves due to physical or mental disability.
- Is unable to work outside the home due to caring for a child with a physical or mental disability.
- Lacks the earning capacity to support themselves.
- Domestic violence was committed by the other spouse.
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.
How Long Does Spousal Support Last?
There are strict guidelines for how long your spousal support payments will last. In most cases spousal support is limited to:
- 5 years
- If the marriage lasted less than 10 years and the other spouse is a convicted domestic abuser.
- The marriage lasted more than 10 years but less than 20.
- 7 years
- If the marriage lasted more than 20 but less than 30 years.
- 10 years
- If the marriage lasted for 30 or more years
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:
- Either party dies.
- The supported spouse remarries or begins cohabiting with a romantic partner.
- Upon a review or future order of the court.
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.
How Much Will My Spousal Support Payment Be?
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.
Call a Family Law Attorney
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 Illaraza Law.
Call Illaraza Law at (214) 646-3253 for more information about alimony and spousal support.