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Am I eligible for spousal maintenance?

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Spousal maintenance, known colloquially (but not legally in Texas) as alimony, is applicable in some but not all marriages. There are a series of requirements establishing who is eligible and for how long they're entitled to receive it - though, at its core, it's intended for spouses who didn't work or were unable to work during a marriage to have support while making a transition to working as a single person. 

Spousal maintenance requirements in the Texas Family Code largely depend on how long a couple was married prior to divorce. For couples married 10 to 20 years, it's up to five years; for those married 20 to 30 years, it's up to seven years; for those married 30 years or more, it's 10 years. It's also possible to apply spousal maintenance to marriages less than 10 years if family violence is involved.

It's also contingent on a number of factors laid out specifically in the Texas Family Code, including "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," and "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."

So, if both spouses have full-time jobs that pay enough to allow them to maintain households, a judge may determine that spousal maintenance isn't needed. But if a spouse has quit a job in order to take care of children and maintain a household, the judge may determine that spousal maintenance is necessary - especially if there's a great disparity between what one spouse makes and what the other could make if he or she instantly went back on the job market.

There's one more provision to keep in mind: "Marital misconduct, including adultery and cruel treatment, by either spouse during the marriage." We discussed whether or not proving adultery was necessary for divorce in a recent article; though it's not required to obtain a divorce decree, it can be helpful for a person looking to secure spousal maintenance.

The maximum amount that can be awarded is the lesser of $5,000 or 20 percent of the contributing spouse's average monthly gross income - which can, when combined with child support, add up to a substantial portion of the payer's income.

Because it's intended to be transitional, it's better to come into court with a plan for how spousal maintenance will be used. A judge will likely be more receptive to a person intending to enroll in a job training program and seek employment within two or three years than a person who will just collect spousal employment and continue to not work. That said, a person's ability to work, based on physical or emotional factors - which could involve recovering from spousal abuse - figures significantly into the equation.

It's also worth noting that a person can lose spousal maintenance "if the court finds that the obligee cohabits with another person with whom the obligee has a dating or romantic relationship in a permanent place of abode on a continuing basis." This is because spousal maintenance sometimes ends once the receiving party remarries. So cohabitating could be deemed marriage if the parties fall into certain criteria. It requires a hearing to determine this - it can't just be the obligor making an allegation of this - but it's certainly important for all parties involved to be aware of that provision when entering into a spousal maintenance agreement.

If you believe you might be eligible for spousal maintenance as you start the divorce process - or you're concerned about what your obligations are - it's best to discuss it as part of your initial consultation at the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance. We can, based on your marital history and your incomes, assess what you're eligible for and discuss strategies to either secure spousal maintenance or determine workable alternatives to a fixed monthly payment.

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