Spousal Maintenance Law Changed

The Texas Legislature and Governor Perry recently enacted several changes to the Texas Family Code. One of these changes, profiled recently in the news, is how much spousal maintenance can be awarded in a divorce. The information below will help clarify the new laws, and is intended for informational purposes only.

Big change – Who is eligible to receive spousal maintenance?
A spouse seeking maintenance must lack sufficient property, including the spouse’s separate property, on dissolution of the marriage to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs and either: (1) the spouse from whom maintenance is requested was convicted of or received deferred adjudication for a criminal offense that also constitutes an act of family violence, committed during the marriage against the other spouse or the other spouse’s child and the offense occurred either within two years before the date the petition was filed or while suit is pending, or (2) the spouse seeking maintenance is either unable to earn sufficient income; has been married to the spouse for 10 years or longer and lacks ability to earn sufficient income; or is the custodian of a child that requires substantial care that prevents the spouse from earning sufficient income. There is no longer an absolute requirement that the marriage last 10 years, as long as the spouse seeking spousal maintenance can meet one of the other conditions.

How much can a spouse receive?
On a temporary basis, it is not uncommon for the amount to be set at twenty percent (20%) of the paying spouse’s gross monthly income. The Court may also provide that certain expenses are to be paid as spousal maintenance. In the final decree, it depends on how long the spouses have been married, as well as several factors that the Court will consider – both of which are discussed below.

The spouse seeking maintenance has to show a few things, before it can be awarded on a permanent basis.
There is a rebuttable presumption that spousal maintenance is not warranted unless the spouse seeking maintenance has exercised diligence in (1) earning sufficient income to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs or (2) developing the necessary skills to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs. However, there are several factors that can come into play here, and so it is best to discuss options and actions with a family law attorney.

Big change – how long it can last
The maximum time depends on the length of the marriage. The duration of spousal support is now extended from (the limit prior to September 1, 2011) a maximum of 3 years to a maximum of 5, 7 or 10 years, generally depending on the length of the marriage.

Big change – maximum amount to be paid
Texas Family Code Section 8.055 was amended to change the limit of spousal maintenance. For cases filed before September 1, 2011, the limit was $2500.00 per month or 20% of the paying spouse’s gross monthly income. For cases filed on or after September 1, 2011, the limit is $5000.00 per month or 20% of the paying spouse’s gross monthly income.

Cohabitation can end a spouse’s receipt of spousal maintenance.
Section 8.056 of the Family Code now provides that the Court shall order the termination of the maintenance obligation if the Court finds that the person receiving maintenance cohabitates with another person with whom the he/she has a dating or romantic relationship in a permanent place of abode on a continuing basis.

What factors does the Court consider in determining a spousal maintenance issue?
(1) each spouse’s ability to provide for that spouse’s minimum reasonable needs independently, considering that spouse’s financial resources on dissolution of the marriage; (2) the education and employment skills of the spouses, the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking maintenance to earn sufficient income, and the availability and feasibility of that education or training; (3) the duration of the marriage; (4) the age, employment history, earning ability, and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance; (5) the effect on each spouse’s ability to provide for that spouse’s minimum reasonable needs while providing periodic child support payments or maintenance, if applicable; (6) acts by either spouse resulting in excessive or abnormal expenditures or destruction, concealment, or fraudulent disposition of community property, joint tenancy, or other property held in common; (7) the contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other spouse; (8) the property brought to the marriage by either spouse; (9) the contribution of a spouse as homemaker; (10) marital misconduct, including adultery and cruel treatment, by either spouse during the marriage; and (11) any history or pattern of family violence.

There are a few other changes made to spousal maintenance law. It is imperative that you contact a family law attorney who is familiar with all of the changes.