In late 2011, drastic changes were made to the Texas alimony laws that affect how spousal maintenance is awarded, and how courts consider whether or not a spouse is eligible for alimony. Previously, the law automatically assumed that spousal support was unnecessary, putting the burden of proving otherwise on the divorce lawyer representing the spouse who was requesting support. This process has now changed.
Although a “rebuttal presumption” still applies, the definition of who qualifies for alimony outside of the presumption has been more clearly defined. Proving the need for alimony still requires expert representation by a skilled divorce attorney experienced in handling alimony concerns.
Alimony Rebuttal Presumption - Changes
Texas courts previously presumed that spousal maintenance was unnecessary. The preference had always been to avoid court-ordered alimony unless the requesting spouse was able to prove they were unable to support themselves due to reasons deemed valid by the court. This law has been changed to more specifically spell out who can rebut this presumption by proving hardship that makes it impossible to support themselves and therefore, eligible to collect alimony.
Determining Actual Need
With the updated law, a spouse who requests court-ordered spousal maintenance must now meet two qualifications. Divorce lawyers say they must first prove they are unable to provide for themselves based on their personal assets and property as well as the inability to obtain or maintain employment to earn a reasonable wage. Secondly, the requesting spouse must also meet one of the following criteria:
- Be unable to earn a living due to some physical or mental disability.
- The marriage lasted 10 years or longer and the requesting spouse lacks the ability to earn enough to reasonably support themselves.
- The requesting spouse is the custodial parent of a special needs child from the marriage which makes them unable to earn enough to reasonably support themselves.
- The paying spouse was convicted of domestic violence during divorce proceedings, or within two years of the start of divorce proceedings.
Duration and Amount of Alimony
As a divorce attorney, I often advise clients of other changes that went into effect with the new alimony laws, which included the duration and the amount of alimony that can be paid. The spousal maintenance maximum payment was also increased. The duration, while still deemed to be the “shortest time possible” that a spouse can collect support, has been increased from three years to a schedule based on the length of the marriage and the reason support is awarded. The minimum and maximum standard duration is now five and ten years respectively. There are stipulations that could require support to continue indefinitely as needed, such as in cases of mental or physical disability, or caring for a special needs child.
With these changes to Texas alimony laws that went into effect September of 2011, the manner in which spousal support or maintenance is awarded has changed considerably. Through clarification and re-evaluation of alimony laws, it is now somewhat easier for those with obvious need to prove such necessity. Yet, when those specific circumstances are not met, it is much more challenging for the requesting spouse and their divorce lawyer to be awarded any spousal support. Those involved in divorce proceedings who want to request court-ordered alimony should seek the counsel of an experienced divorce attorney for the best outcome.
Garza & Elizondo, LLP
680 East St. Charles St, Suite 600
Brownsville TX 78520
1393 East Alton Gloor Blvd, Suite 12
Brownsville TX 78526