How to Modify or End Spousal Support

What are the time and payment limits on alimony in Texas?

As part of a divorce proceeding in Texas, a judge may order one spouse to pay alimony to the other. Texas law actually refers to alimony as “spousal maintenance.” The court will order support payments only if one spouse will “lack sufficient property” after the divorce to provide for his or her “minimum reasonable needs.” There must also be one or more special circumstances present, such as the spouse was a victim of domestic violence or the parties were married for at least 10 years and the spouse requesting maintenance is unable to “earn sufficient income.”

How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last?

Spousal maintenance orders do not last indefinitely. There are, however, cases where support is ordered due to a specific condition—for example, the requesting spouse has custody of a child with a physical or mental disability. This is often informally referred to as lifetime maintenance, says Bobby Dale Barina, a family law and criminal defense attorney in Harker Heights. However, even with lifetime maintenance, the court reviews the cases periodically and payments may end if the judge determines that circumstances have changed.

In all other cases—i.e. where support is ordered based on the length of the marriage—Texas law imposes the following time limits on spousal maintenance:

  • 5 years if the marriage lasted 10 to 20 years (or less than 10 years if there was domestic violence);
  • 7 years if the marriage lasted 20 to 30 years; or
  • 10 years if the marriage lasted 30 years or more.

Keep in mind, these are the maximum time limits. Either spouse, or the court acting on its own initiative, may request a review of a spousal maintenance order at any time.

“It’s generally up to the party that’s paying to call for a review based on a change of circumstance,” Barina says. “They might say, ‘Listen, I’ve lost my job and I’m no longer able to satisfy my basic needs.’ The court would then hold a hearing to make a determination.”

A Texas family law attorney can advise you on the specific factors that may lead the court to alter or end a spousal support obligation. For example, Barina adds, “If my client is on the paying end and we found out the other party graduated from school and got a high-paying job, I would advise to look to modify.”

When Does Spousal Support End Automatically?

Texas law terminates a spousal maintenance order, regardless of the time limits above, if the spouse receiving support remarries or “cohabits with another person” in a “dating or romantic relationship.”

“Cohabiting is a way to help meet those minimum basic needs, but it needs to be a partner and not just living with a family member,” Barina notes.

Children and state laws can complicate the matter further, he adds. “Texas has morality clauses that prevent them from living with anybody if they have children, unless they’re married. They can’t keep the interested partner from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. because they’re considering the children.”

Spousal maintenance also terminates when either party dies.

Changing the Amount of Support Payments

In Texas, monthly spousal support payments are limited to 20 percent of the paying spouse's “average gross monthly income” or $5,000, whichever is less. The exact amount of support is determined by the court based on a variety of factors, including the spouse's education, employment history, and contribution to the marriage as a “homemaker.” Either spouse may file a motion with the court to reduce the amount of a monthly payment if circumstances change. Once again, a Texas family law attorney can be useful in helping a party decide whether or not to file such a motion.

For more information on this area, see our overviews of family law, divorce, and mediation and collaborative law.

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