If you live in the Fort Worth area and are facing the prospect of a divorce, it is likely that you feel a bit overwhelmed. Not only is the dissolution of a marriage an emotional roller coaster, but it comes with plenty of practical questions that demand answers as well. The complicated nature of Texas family law doesn’t help; no matter why people come into contact with the legal system, they almost invariably find the unfamiliar jargon confusing and the process intimidating. That is why we are here—The Law Office of Wendy L. Hart exists to provide Ft. Worth and Tarrant County residents with the personalized, competent, and compassionate representation you deserve as you navigate one of life’s toughest hurdles.
One of the questions that new divorce clients often have is this: What are the rules regarding alimony in the State of Texas? Alimony is a term that is thrown around quite a bit; spend an evening watching reality T.V., and you’ll probably hear it at least once. To help you manage your expectations and understand how Texas law views the issue, we’ll unpack some of the specifics regarding alimony and demystify some of the complicated rules governing this element of divorce in Texas.
What is Alimony?
The term alimony means payments from one spouse to another that are made on a monthly basis following a divorce. For Fort Worth area residents, the rules governing such payments are legally defined by a body of laws passed by the legislature called the Texas Family Code. In fact, the term “alimony” isn’t used within that much within the text of the code. The State of Texas tends to prefer to refer to alimony as “maintenance.” Within the family code, the word maintenance is used more than ten times more frequently than the term alimony. In Texas, spousal maintenance is additional money paid to a former spouse. It is not part of the division of marital assets, and it is generally separate from other thorny divorce-related issues such as child custody or support.
There are two kinds of spousal maintenance that may be available to people undergoing a divorce. The first variety is known as court-ordered maintenance; this is a situation where a family law judge orders a spouse to pay alimony involuntarily. The second kind of spousal maintenance is contractual maintenance. In this case, there is an agreement between the parties in the divorce that one will pay the other an alimony of a certain amount. The court then reviews and approves this agreement, or sends it back to the divorcing couple for further work.
Court Ordered Maintenance
It must be understood from the outset that court-ordered maintenance in Texas is not always the best option for either party in a divorce. The Family Law Code requires that the spouse receiving maintenance payments meet specific requirements, and the statute limits the term of the maintenance. In fact, our experience suggests that Texas courts tend to be hesitant to order spousal maintenance unless they deem it to be absolutely necessary. The amount a spouse can be forced by the judge to pay is limited as well; Texas law stipulates that a party to a divorce cannot be forced to pay more than $5000 or 20% of that person’s gross income, whichever is less.
To be eligible to be awarded court ordered maintenance, there is a list of factors within the Texas Family Code that the judge will use to determine whether the court can order alimony. These eligibility factors include things such as domestic violence, if the spouse receiving alimony suffers from a physical or mental impairment, if there is a disabled child who needs full-time care, or if the marriage has lasted ten years or more and the spouse is unable to support him or herself. The law also includes factors that a judge must consider when determining the ultimate amount of the alimony, including each spouse’s level of education, the property brought to the marriage, the contributions each spouse made to the marriage (even as a homemaker), and the presence of fraud or violence.
The term of the alimony ordered by the court is not forever. If one of the spouses passes away, the payments cease. Additionally, the Texas Family Code explicitly spells out the length of time that alimony must be paid. The term that court-ordered maintenance can be as much as ten years for marriages that have lasted thirty years or more, but it can be far less for shorter marriage and may be changed by a judge as circumstances warrant.
For many couples enduring the process of a divorce, a contractual settlement is a gentler option. Not only can the needs of both parties be met, but a mediated agreement can save time, expense, and not a small amount of sanity. In fact, The Law Firm of Wendy L. Hart strives to settle many of our cases through a mediation process. However, we realize that this isn’t always in the best interest of our clients, so we are always ready to defend your interests in Texas Family Court aggressively.
Unlike court-ordered spousal maintenance, contractual maintenance does not have any legal eligibility requirements. It is simply an agreement between the parties for a specific amount of money for a specified amount of time. Often these funds can be used to bridge the gap between married life and a life apart; there are new Fort Worth living arrangements to pay for, there may be children’s education expenses, and sometimes a spouse needs some time to secure employment and stand on their own two feet. While a mediated contractual settlement can save the divorcing couple the time spent in court, there are drawbacks. If a spouse does not meet the spousal maintenance requirements ordered by a judge, that spouse could be held in contempt of court and punished. If a party to a contractual maintenance agreement doesn’t comply with the terms, the only option is to pursue the matter civilly in court. These potential complications are why you need an experienced Fort Worth family law attorney—when it comes to choosing a path for your future, there is no substitute for the help that a knowledgeable lawyer can provide.
The Wendy L. Hart Difference
The Law Firm of Wendy L. Hart has been serving the family law needs of Fort Worth and Tarrant County residents since 2001. We are a small practice, and we like it that way—our size enables us to give you the deeply personal representation you need as you navigate the complicated issues surrounding alimony in Texas. The Law Firm of Wendy L. Hart has maintained a 10.0 superior rating from AVVO, and the Wendy was named one of the Ten Best Female Attorneys by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys. We believe in fighting aggressively for your rights while preserving a sense of normalcy for you and your family through what is bound to be an emotionally trying experience. Please contact us today on our website or call us at (817) 842-2336.