Alimony laws are a complicated set of rules, which can drastically vary from state to state. In particular, Texas has very clear guidelines about the circumstances surrounding any potential alimony payments that you could receive due to your impending split.
For spouses who are considering petitioning the courts or working through the negotiation process for alimony, you will want to clearly understand the qualifications, amounts, and duration of payments that you could reasonably expect to receive.
What are the basics that you need to consider when requesting alimony payments in Texas? In this article, you will find out what the state laws allow.
What Is Alimony?
Alimony is sometimes referred to as spousal support or spousal maintenance. These payments are often made on a temporary basis, in order to help one spouse get on his or her feet and cover his or her living costs until he or she can find gainful employment. Permanent alimony might be ordered in situations when one spouse is disabled, or the couple has a disabled child that requires constant care.
You will frequently see alimony ordered in marriages that include one spouse who has a high income, and another who is a stay-at-home parent. Over the years, a stay-at-home parent may have sacrificed his or her education or career to help his or her spouse advance his or her career. Now that the marriage is over, this sacrifice has a significant impact on the stay-at-home parent’s ability to provide for himself or herself and any children involved.
The disadvantaged spouse might need the financial assistance from alimony to cover costs while he or she returns to school, searches for a better job, or finds a position that will cover his or her living costs. These payments are designed to give this spouse some financial breathing room, as well as an opportunity to create personal stability. Then this spouse can use that money to further his or her own career and help him or her maintain a similar standard of living.
What Are the Qualifications for Alimony in Texas?
Laws regarding the qualifications for alimony are different in each state, but Texas allows for spousal support or alimony payments in two primary situations: negotiated payments and court-ordered alimony. In order to have a negotiated payment, both spouses must agree to a set amount of alimony during the mediation or negotiation process.
These payments are usually given in exchange for a more valuable item that the other spouse needs or strongly desires, which outweighs the other spouse’s interest. Therefore, negotiated alimony payments can financially offset the value of that item.
Court-ordered alimony payments are achieved by a judge in the court system, but they will only be granted under certain circumstances. For example, a couple must be married for at least ten years, and the court must consider the situation to be reasonable.
Alimony could be ordered due to difficulty finding gainful employment, because a spouse is in school or has a disability. Most alimony requires the marriage to last a minimum of ten years, but timeframes could be shorter in cases involving domestic violence or abuse.
In any case, payments will only be ordered on a temporary basis. The amount of alimony issued to a spouse cannot exceed 20% of the other spouse’s gross monthly income (or $2,500 per month).
What Does the Court Consider When Ordering Alimony Payments?
In order to make a decision about ordering alimony payments, each judge will have the right to weigh all of the factors in the marriage and the circumstances surrounding the divorce. Most judges will enter the courtroom with the assumption that alimony payments are not necessary or warranted until proven otherwise.
Considerations for alimony payments can include:
- The individual financial status of each spouse, and his or her income level, compared to the cost of his or her living expenses.
- The ease with which each spouse could find gainful employment to cover those expenses (based on education level, work history, and acquired skills).
- Disabilities of a spouse or a child, which require full-time caregiving and severely prevent that spouse from being gainfully employed.
- Relationship history, including potential domestic violence or abuse.
- Property awarded or brought to the marriage by one particular spouse.
- Child-support payments.
How Long Does Alimony Last in Texas?
While some states may allow for indefinite alimony payments, Texas places strict limits on the lengths of time and the situations that one spouse will be required to pay the other. The length of time allotted for alimony payments is based on the length of the marriage itself. The maximum amount of time that judges will consider is ten years.
If the marriage lasted between ten and twenty years (or less than ten years, in the case of domestic violence), alimony payments can extend for up to five years. Marriages lasting between twenty and thirty years could require alimony for seven years. Last but not least, marriages lasting thirty years or more could require alimony payments of up to ten years.
In relationships that involve one spouse’s emotional or physical disability (or the disability of a child that requires the constant care of one parent), alimony may last longer than the prescribed timeframes listed above. In these situations, alimony will usually remain until there is a status change in the disability itself.
Within the state of Texas, payments are scheduled to end within a specific timeframe, and there are external circumstances that can influence the duration of alimony payments. The alimony payments will automatically stop when the spouse receiving said payments remarries or begins to cohabitate with a new romantic partner. They will also cease upon the death of either spouse.
Are Alimony Payments Taxable?
Alimony payments can be advantageous to the spouse making them when tax season rolls around. The spouse who is ordered to pay alimony can deduct the cost of their alimony payments on their taxes. This simple move could put them in a lower tax bracket, which could save them a significant amount of money at the end of the fiscal year. These savings could help offset the cost of payments, which make them much more financially bearable.
The receiving spouse will need to list the alimony payments as taxable income on their tax returns. Be aware that this situation could boost you into another tax bracket when combined with your usual income. Even a small shift in your tax bracket can significantly raise your tax bill. In advance, you should prepare the money you might owe the federal government at tax time.
How to Avoid Paying Alimony in Texas
Would you do absolutely anything to avoid paying alimony to your former spouse? Most people hate to see money siphoned from their paycheck each month, in order to support their ex-spouse. However, it is never recommended that you do something illegal to skirt your responsibility for paying alimony. Once you are ordered to make these payments, you must comply with the court order.
However, there are a few legal ways that you might be able to initially forego alimony payments:
1. Make lifestyle changes.
If you can deal with a significant pay cut and can scale back your monthly living expenses, you might be able to forego alimony. You would need to find a similar position that pays much less than your current job. Ideally, it should cover your monthly living expenses, but not much more. If you have no money left over at the end of the month, there will be nothing to give to your former spouse.
Think carefully before you make this major lifestyle change. You need to be sure that you are ready to scale back your lifestyle. It might be best to work with a financial planner to guarantee that you can pay your bills if you make this major change.
2. Ask for an evaluation of your spouse’s employability.
Some spouses might have the training necessary to take a well-paying position, even though they claim otherwise. If you ask for an evaluation of your spouse’s employability, it could prove that he or she can start working right away. Alternatively, it may shorten the amount of time that you need to pay alimony.
After a detailed review of their job history, education, and training, a judge might rule that your spouse needs significantly less schooling than he or she claims, in order to find a new job. Based on his or her current skills, your spouse might even be able to work at a position that pays considerably more than he or she is currently making.
3. Prove that your spouse does not need the money.
If your spouse does not truly need the money, you might be able to convince a judge not to order alimony. Therefore, demonstrate that your spouse has enough assets to cover his or her cost of living without your temporary alimony payments. He or she might have a trust fund, a large investment account, or considerable individual assets that he or she could sell after the divorce.
4. Keep tabs on your former spouse.
On a regular basis, check on your former spouse’s new relationship status. You can check on it through social media, mutual friends, or casual conversation (if you are still on speaking terms). Remember, alimony payments typically end when a former spouse gets remarried or moves in with a romantic partner.
5. End your marriage sooner.
As you have already seen, Texas alimony payments last longer if the marriage lasted longer. Therefore, if you end a marriage that you have been miserable in for years, it could shorten your alimony payments.
If it is still a relatively new relationship, keep in mind that judges rarely consider ordering alimony payments for marriages that did not last at least ten years. This tendency might be all the incentive you need to call it quits now, instead of continuing to drag your feet in an unhappy union.
Understanding the Issues
In order to successfully petition a judge for alimony payments, each spouse should be well-versed in the knowledge surrounding the state requirements and limitations. Some spouses will qualify to receive this type of financial support, but even then, it will only be on a temporary basis. Without adding a disability into the equation, alimony only gives a short window of breathing room for you to foster your own sense of financial independence.
Consider your own unique situation and your relationship status. Then you can figure out if you would have a reasonable chance to qualify for alimony payments in Texas. The decision will ultimately be left up to you and your spouse during mediation, or a judge will decide. Therefore, it is helpful to enter the case prepared and knowledgeable about your rights.