Understanding Alimony Before You Divorce

Understanding Alimony Before You Divorce

Understanding alimony before you divorce is a good idea whether you are the higher earning spouse or the spouse potentially receiving alimony support payments. This article shares helpful information regarding what alimony is, how courts determine the amount of alimony ordered, and more.

If you are considering filing for divorce, speaking with an experienced attorney can help you to understand the process and what to expect every step of the way. Reach out to our team today to learn more about divorce in Texas and to begin the process of filing the paperwork required to dissolve your marriage.

What is Alimony? 

Alimony refers to court-ordered payments from one spouse to the other spouse or former spouse within a separation or divorce agreement. The point of alimony is to provide financial support to the spouse who makes a lower income, or in some cases, no income at all.

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support is ordered by the court, not contractual. The Texas Family Code dictates when and for how long spousal support can be awarded. Because it’s court-ordered, spousal maintenance may be modified by court order. If there is a significant change in life circumstances, such as remarriage, a new job, a large raise and more, the side paying spousal support may seek a modification,

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. These rules are sometimes different for temporary support during the divorce and for post-divorce alimony.

Deciding Whether to Award 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. Typically, these are the same considerations that go into decisions about the amount of alimony (as discussed below).

But that’s not always the case. In some states, you must meet separate requirements to qualify for alimony before the judge decides how much to award. In Texas, for instance, the law presumes that spousal maintenance isn’t appropriate outside of certain limited circumstances. Even in long-term marriages, 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.”

Considerations When Deciding How Much Spousal Support to Award

Once judges have decided that some amount of alimony is appropriate in a particular case, they must decide how much support to award. Almost all states spell out a number of factors judges should consider when making these decisions, 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, some 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).

If you’re asking for support, the judge 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.

Deciding How Long Spousal Support Will Last

Beyond the circumstances that automatically terminate alimony payments (discussed below), some states have separate rules for deciding how long alimony should last. For instance, a state’s law might set a time limit on maintenance payments, or it might provide a general guideline—such as half the length of a marriage or no longer than the marriage lasted. But those guidelines may vary depending on whether it was a short or long-term marriage (with 10 years as the typical measure of a long-term marriage).

Alimony and Spousal Support Attorney in Houston

While the terms alimony and spousal maintenance are often used interchangeably, they are very different things under Texas law. They both achieve the same goal during a divorce, however. They both allow one spouse to receive financial support from the other.

Renken Law Firm understands the distinction between alimony and spousal maintenance. Our understanding of the difference between these two means of financial support allows us to pursue an outcome that best meets your needs.

Experienced Family Law Attorney in Houston, TX

At Renken Law Firm, we work with our clients to help them navigate the divorce process. We understand how complicated and emotionally draining this experience can be, this is why we work with you every step of the way. Contact our law office to explore your options for traditional marriage divorce and common law divorce, and find out how we can help you resolve any legal problems you are currently facing.