Houston divorce lawyers can help provide you with legal advice surrounding your separation and divorce. Our legal team has years of experience assisting in everything from custody, child support, property division, and alimony. If you are a divorcing spouse seeking alimony, contact Renken Law Firm in Harris County.
Alimony is basically defined as one spouse’s payment to the other—under a court order or the couple’s agreement—after divorce or while a divorce case is proceeding. States use different terms for alimony, such as spousal support and maintenance, but they usually mean essentially the same thing. And state laws on alimony determine how it works and how judges decide when to award spousal support, how much, and for how long (more on all that below).
When you’re thinking about alimony, it might help to know a couple of things it is not:
- Alimony isn’t a way of equalizing a divorced couple’s financial situation. Instead, it’s typically meant to help make sure that both spouses are able to meet their financial needs.
- Spousal support isn’t just for ex-wives. The vast majority of states have changed their divorce laws to be gender-neutral, and some women now find themselves being ordered to pay alimony to their former husbands, at least for a time.
There are basically three different kinds of alimony (although some states use other terms, and a few states have additional variations):
- temporary alimony that lasts only until the divorce is final
- rehabilitative support that’s meant to help the recipients make the transition to supporting themselves, and
- permanent support.
While many states use the term “permanent” spousal support for any alimony that’s ordered as part of the final divorce judgment, those payments very rarely last for the rest of the recipient’s life. True permanent alimony is usually reserved for situations like lengthy marriages where one spouse stayed out of the job market for many years and—because of age or other circumstances—isn’t likely ever to gain financial independence.
Even rehabilitative alimony typically only goes to former spouses who missed out on educational or career advancement because they devoted a significant amount of time to raising children and taking care of the home. For example, judges will seldom award alimony in cases where the marriage lasted just a year or two. In fact, some state laws allow alimony awards only when the couple has been married for a certain amount of time.
How Courts Decide Alimony
State laws set out the rules for judges to consider when they’re deciding whether to award alimony in any case, as well as the amount and duration of the payments. Typically, these rules are different for temporary support during the divorce and for post-divorce alimony.
Considerations When Awarding Post-Divorce Alimony
When judges are deciding whether to order alimony payments after divorce, they generally must start out by deciding whether one spouse needs support and whether the other spouse has the ability to pay that support. Most states spell out a number of factors judges should consider when making that decision, such as:
- the couple’s standard of living during the marriage, and the extent to which each of them could maintain a similar lifestyle after divorce
- each spouse’s income, assets, and debts
- how much each spouse will get when their property is divided
- whether one spouse has a lower earning capacity because that spouse was unemployed for periods of time while taking care of the family
- the length of the marriage
- each spouse’s age and health
- contributions either spouse made to the other’s training, education, or career advancement, and
- any other factors the judge thinks are fair.
Also, many states allow (or even require) judges to consider a history of domestic violence or other misconduct on the part of one or both spouses when they’re deciding whether to order alimony. But one factor that’s generally not under consideration: which spouse filed for divorce. You may request spousal support when you file for divorce. And if your spouse was the one who started the divorce process, you may ask for alimony (usually by filing a “counter” complaint or petition).
Remember, not all of these considerations apply in every state. For instance:
- In Texas, the law allows spousal maintenance awards only in limited situations and starts out by assuming that it’s not appropriate outside of those circumstances. Even in marriages that lasted 10 years or more, Texans requesting maintenance must show they’ve seriously tried to earn enough or develop the necessary job skills to provide for their “minimum reasonable needs.”
If you’re asking for support, the court will look closely at your current income or—if you aren’t currently working or aren’t earning enough to live on—your ability to earn. If you’ve been out of the workforce or underemployed for a long time, the judge is more likely to award support for as long as it will take you to become independent. However, you might have to prove you’re doing what you can to get to that point, such as taking classes or other training. Sometimes, a judge will order that an expert called a “vocational evaluator” study your abilities and qualifications, compare them with potential employers, and estimate how much income you could earn.
Of course, unless you’re really rich, you probably know that it’s nearly impossible to maintain separate households at the same standard of living that a couple enjoyed while married and living together. That’s especially true now that more and more divorced parents share custody of their children and have to keep bedrooms for the kids in both of their homes.
So both former spouses will probably have to make adjustments after divorce. That means that if you’re the one who’s being ordered to pay support, the judge might decide that you could be earning more than you’re making now. For instance, if you’re only working part-time, you might be required to look for a full-time job.
Affordable Family Lawyer Serving Houston, TX
Our team proudly serves the Greater Houston area, including but not limited to Brazos County, Cypress, Fort Bend County, Galveston, Houston Heights, Houston, Humble, Katy, Kingwood, Memorial Houston, Montgomery County, Montrose, Richmond, Rosenberg, Spring, The Woodlands. All marriages are different, making each divorce equally unique with its own set of needs that must be addressed. Contact our law office to explore your options moving forward, and find out how we can help you.