The answer to that question, like so many other ones in the legal arena, is "it depends." The Texas legislature, following years of debate on the topic, passed sweeping reforms to the state's alimony provisions in the past decade. The changes were largely made to clarify the circumstances in which it is possible for divorcing spouses to obtain spousal support payments and to make it less cumbersome for people who genuinely need alimony to obtain it.
The traditional purpose of alimony payments has been to allow the lower-earning spouse to maintain the same standard of living that he or she grew accustomed to during the marriage. It was originally intended to be a "stop-gap" measure while the less affluent spouse became financially independent and could afford to maintain his or her lifestyle alone. That being said, for years alimony was seen as a crutch by many, something that would allow one vindictive former spouse to fleece the other. Lobbying began in earnest to do away with permanent alimony awards as well as to regulate situations in which alimony was awarded for much longer than the length of the marriage itself.
Texas law now - codified in Title I, Subtitle C, Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code - strikes what most see as a healthy balance, with alimony being granted only under certain circumstances. Section 8.051 of the Spousal Maintenance Subchapter of the Texas Family Code provides that alimony is only to be awarded when the person seeking support won't have sufficient property to provide for their own "minimum reasonable needs" and one of the following is also true:
- Certain acts constituting "Family violence" have occurred two years prior to the date of the filing of a divorce or while the divorce is pending
- The spouse seeking maintenance payments is disabled and cannot work
- The marriage was at least 10 years in length
- The person requesting alimony is the caretaker for a disabled child who requires so much assistance or supervision that the person is unable to support him/herself
These are only the circumstances in which alimony is presumptively awarded. Family court judges also have to determine the amount of spousal maintenance awards, guided by the factors set forth in Section 8.052 of the Family Code. These will be addressed in greater detail in a later post. In the meantime, if you have any questions about whether spousal maintenance is appropriate for your divorce, or you'd like more information about either seeking support or contesting your spouse's request for payments, speak with an experienced family law attorney.