Spousal support, or spousal maintenance, is a touchy subject. It may feel
punitive to the responsible party. Perhaps life has changed significantly,
and it’s become unreasonable to expect original agreements be kept.
When is it time to reevaluate spousal support agreements?
How Is Spousal Support Determined?
Texas is a “community property division” state. In simplest
terms, courts look at the assets of the individual marriage partners and
attempt to divide them 50/50 in a divorce. Judges, however, have a lot
of leeway to make determinations they deem “just and right,” which can make the division of property more “equitable”
and less of an “equal” split.
Courts order spousal maintenance when, in a 50/50 split, one partner will
be left unable to support themselves. This could be because they were
a full-time, at-home parent. Perhaps they managed everything in the home
as a full-time responsibility. Or maybe they were working part time and
going to school. Whatever the case, the judge may order spousal support
as a way to protect the partner with less assets. Couples have the option
to divide support however they see fit, without the court making that
decision. This kind of support is called “contractual alimony.”
Court-ordered spousal maintenance in Texas is based on the amount of time
a couple was married. The-time-to-payment ratio looks like this:
- For marriages of 10 to 20 years: five years of spousal support.
- For marriages of 20 to 30 years: seven years of spousal support.
- For marriages of 30 or more years: ten years of spousal support.
If the couple was married for less than ten years, there is no spousal
support due. However, there are exceptions.
A person married less ten years may receive spousal support under a specific
set of circumstances:
- If their partner has been found guilty of family violence, they may receive
spousal support for up to five years.
- If the supported spouse is disabled, the paying spouse may be obligated
to support them until they are able to care for themselves.
Texas regards spousal support as a means of getting someone “back
on their feet.” To keep ex-partners from becoming reliant on support,
judges need to order the shortest lengths of time possible. They might
even refer to it as “rehabilitative support” to drive this
Spousal support is determined at the time of the divorce. Factors such
as potential earnings or an impending promotion may be considered. This
means that the final amount can be based on what the responsible party
will be earning, not what they are currently earning.
There is a cap to spousal support in Texas, which provides relief to the
responsible party. Spousal maintenance can be no more than $5,000 per
month, or no more than 20% of the supporter’s income, whichever
Unlike child support, however, spousal support payments can’t go
up when the supporter has upward movement in life. Child support is determined
under the assumption that both parents are always contributing to the
best interest of the child. When someone gets a huge promotion or suddenly
writes their best-seller, their ex can request a higher child support
payment based on this increased income. Parents are always considered
to be caretakers and family members of their children. Extra income is
assumed to be a benefit to the child, since it would directly benefit
children if their parents were still together.
Divorce ostensibly assumes that the couple has ended their relationship,
and they are no longer family. Based on this philosophy, an ex is not
entitled to any portion of their former partner’s new fortune.
Reasons to Modify Spousal Support
A “Substantial Change in Circumstance”
The most likely reason to modify spousal support is a loss of income. 2020
has been a year of hard times for a lot of people. With the COVID-19 pandemic
raging on, many have lost their jobs or had their work hours reduced.
Keeping up with bills is becoming a real struggle. People want to meet
their obligations, but sometimes it’s just not possible. When income
drastically changes, it might be time to ask the courts to redraw spousal
People should file for modification only when they have experienced a “substantial
change in circumstance.” Jim was a handsomely paid CEO who was recently
laid off, and he was a given a robust severance package. Even though it’s
taking him quite a while to secure work, he still has a lot of expensive
electronics and other toys in the house. His current income is low, but
savings and his earning potential are high. The court is not likely to
sympathize when Jim asks for a lower spousal support payment. A particularly
rigid judge could even order Jim to start selling off his assets to meet
Sarah, however, is a waitress who was just scraping by. She was supporting
her husband before the divorce, and he was awarded spousal support. The
restaurant where she worked was closed during the lockdown. She’s
trying hard and actively looking for another job, but it’s been
months. Things aren’t opening up as fast as she needs. In this example,
the courts are far more likely to consider granting her a lower payment
until she can get back to work.
Since spousal support is based on each partner’s situation at the
time of the divorce, new information that comes to light can change everything.
If it is discovered that a partner had unreported assets at the time of
the divorce, it may be possible to return to court to modify the support
This alteration can go both ways. If the supported partner is found to
have hidden assets, it may be possible for the paying partner to ask for
a lower payment. If the paying partner was the one being deceitful, the
supported partner may be able to challenge them in court and receive more
money in the settlement.
The party responsible for paying spousal support is unaffected when they
remarry. They are responsible for making payments for the court-ordered
amount of time.
The recipient of spousal support, however, immediately loses all support
when they get remarried. In fact, Texas cuts off spousal support if the
recipient moves in with their current partner. This rule is there to prevent
someone from taking advantage of their former spouse. “Cohabitation,”
by Texas law, is defined as “two people who are involved in a romantic
situation that live together on a consistent basis.” If the partner
paying spousal maintenance discovers their ex is cohabitating, they may
file to terminate their payments. However, they are still responsible
for any unpaid back support.
Whether it’s a change in income, the discovery of hidden assets,
or an ex’s remarriage, spousal support may be challenged when life
has significantly changed. If you believe it’s time to have spousal
support modified, we can help. Consultations are free and there’s no risk involved,
so call today at (713) 936-2300 or contact us online.