Often, in divorces, the property division ends in a one-time split of assets with no recurring monthly payments over the years following the divorce. However, in certain circumstances, a party may show that he or she is entitled to “spousal maintenance” under the Texas Family Code. Alternatively, parties can agree to “contractual alimony,” which means the parties can agree that one party will make periodic payments to the other even though the receiving party may not meet the legal criteria to be entitled to spousal maintenance.
Spousal maintenance is only available if one of the parties (1) is a victim of recent domestic violence perpetrated by the other party; (2) has an incapacitating physical or mental disability preventing him or her from earning sufficient income; (3) is caring for a child of the marriage with a physical or mental disability that prevents the party from earning sufficient income; or (4) lacks the ability to provide for his or her own minimum reasonable needs after a marriage that lasted at least 10 years. In addition to meeting one of these four prerequisites, the party seeking maintenance must show that he or she lacks sufficient property from the divorce property division to provide for his or her own reasonable needs.
For example, if one of the parties was a stay-at-home parent during a 12-year marriage and needs further education before being qualified to find a decent job, the other party may be ordered to pay spousal maintenance for a set number of years while the stay-at-home parent gets the necessary job skills. Typically, the most challenging element to prove when seeking spousal maintenance is that the person seeking it lacks sufficient property to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs. Minimum reasonable needs do not mean the same quality of life enjoyed during the marriage, but rather, the basic needs of life.
The Texas Family Code imposes restrictions on the dollar amount of maintenance that may be awarded, how long the payments can last, and what circumstances will automatically terminate the obligation. An order for spousal maintenance can be enforced by contempt because it is considered a legal duty rather than simply a monetary debt. Further, if circumstances of the parties change, maintenance can be modified by a court long after the divorce is over.
Contractual alimony, on the other hand, is not restricted by the Texas Family Code. Generally, in Texas, parties enjoy the freedom to contract, which means the parties can agree to alimony payments that they believe are appropriate for them. If the parties reach an agreement regarding alimony, that agreement cannot be altered by a court after the divorce is final because the agreement is a contract entered into freely by the parties and not subject to the “spousal maintenance” provisions of the Texas Family Code. And, contractual alimony is not enforceable by contempt because, as a simple agreement between the parties, it is a monetary debt, not a legal duty.
Ultimately, whether either option is appropriate for your case depends on the specific facts of your relationship and financial circumstances. For more guidance on your specific case, contact us for a consultation.
Reach out to our law firm today at (972) 645-3836 to schedule a consultation!