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Alimony - Is It Automatic in Texas?
In Texas, alimony is also called spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance provides a spouse with periodic payments from the former spouse's future income that continues after the divorce.
The court may order (alimony is not a guarantee) spousal maintenance for a spouse if a spouse was convicted for family violence within two (2) years before the date the petition for divorce was filed or the marriage was ten (10) years duration. The spouse who is seeking spousal maintenance must show that he/she lacks sufficient resources to provide for his/her minimal reasonable needs. The spouse seeking future support must show that employment is difficult to maintain or gainful employment is not possible because of a physical or mental disability. Spousal maintenance may be ordered if a child has a disability that prevents the spouse from being employed outside the home. The courts may order spousal support if a spouse clearly lacks ability in the work place.
Factors that determine eligibility for a spouse to receive support are many, but the main factors the courts look to are (1) all the financial resources of the spouse seeking support; (2) education and employment skills, time necessary for education or vocational training; (3) duration of the marriage; (4) age, employment history, earning ability, as well as the emotional and physical well being of the spouse; and (5) the efforts of the spouse seeking spousal maintenance to obtain suitable employment.
Spousal maintenance can be denied by the judge if the spouse seeking support has not exercised due diligence in seeking employment and developing the necessary skills to become independent and self-supporting. The spouse should actively pursue these requirements during the time the suit for divorce is pending.
Time limits of spousal maintenance are set out in the Family Code, unless the parties agree to a different time frame. The Family Code says that the support order is not effective after three (3) years, with the date the divorce decree was signed as the starting time. The courts limit the spousal support to the shortest possible time for the spouse to begin employment which will provide for his/her "minimal reasonable needs". Only a disability can continue the time frame indefinitely, and once the disability has been removed, then a motion to modify will likely occur from the ex-spouse.
The law has limited the amount of spousal maintenance: the support cannot exceed $2,500.00 per month or 20% of the ex-spouse's average monthly gross income. The amount set will be only enough to provide the spouse with the minimal reasonable needs. However, parties can agree to a larger sum.
Spousal maintenance will not be ordered between parties who are living together and who have never married. Spouses who do qualify for spousal maintenance are not among the majority. Each support order is decided on a case by case basis and not awarded straight across the board.
Texas requires that divorcing spouses try mediation before going to trial. Spouses can request a jury trial, but generally a judge decides the trial rather than a jury. Mediation is an ideal way to prevent the element of surprise that comes with taking a divorce case to trial. Many judges will tell you that a divorce trial has no winners, because the outcome is rarely in favor of just one party.
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