The late American actor John Barrymore observed a century ago that “You never realize how short a month is until you pay alimony.” Barrymore hit upon the frustration men of his day felt about continuing to support women they were no longer married to. A lot has changed since Barrymore’s time. But men’s feelings about alimony generally haven’t changed. With more women now active in high-earning careers, many now ask, why do men have to pay alimony?
Men have had to pay alimony because they were traditionally the higher earners at the time of divorce. However, times are changing. If you’re looking for a way to avoid or at least reduce the amount of money you could end up paying each month, Texas gives you a few options.
An Overview of ‘Alimony’ in Texas
Texas gained American statehood in 1845. It took another 150 years for the Lone Star State to finally codify statutes in its Family Code allowing courts to order at least some form of spousal financial assistance under limited conditions. However, Texas uses other terms besides “alimony.”
What most people call “alimony” is referred to as spousal maintenance in Texas Family Codes. Maintenance is a system of court-ordered, regular monthly payments made from one ex-spouse to the other who otherwise would be unable to adequately support themselves.
The spouse who wants financial support must meet specific and restrictive statutory guidelines. Judges have discretion to decide the amount and duration of court-ordered maintenance payments, however, even those are capped.
Contractual Spousal Support
Contractual spousal support is money one ex-spouse has agreed to pay the other during out-of-court divorce negotiations with a mediator. The two parties agree to the amount, duration, and terms of the payments. In fact, it can even be a one-time lump sum buyout. “Contractual alimony” is favored by Texas family law courts and spouses hoping to avoid court-ordered payments.
Texas ‘Alimony’ is Not Permanent
Spousal maintenance ordered by the court is designed to help the receiving spouse eventually become self-supporting. It is not meant to support them for the rest of their life.
Unless the recipient spouse, or any child in their care, is physically or mentally disabled, maintenance can last no longer than a certain number of years determined by the judge and capped according to the length of the marriage. — Texas Family Code § 8.054; B4.02
Two Ways to Avoid or Reduce Alimony in Texas
The most spousal maintenance you can be required to pay in Texas is the lesser of either $5,000 per month or 20 percent of your average gross income. For example, if you earn $3,600 a month at your job, you could pay $720 of it each month in court-ordered maintenance if you don’t take proactive steps to at least try to reduce the amount.
Here are two common ways men can reduce, or perhaps even avoid, monthly alimony payments.
Reach a Contractual Settlement
You may be able to negotiate a less painful “alimony” plan with your spouse through an out-of-court settlement.
With a collaborative divorce, (hyperlink 3) you and your ex each hire a collaborative divorce attorney, then work toward a solution that suits both your interests without any intervention from the court. You can come to terms on the amount, duration, and frequency of monthly spousal support payments.
Negotiate an ‘Out’
When negotiating spousal support, make sure to specify that payments end on a certain future date or under any of the following circumstances:
- the receiving spouse remarries, or
- begins cohabitating with a new romantic partner, or
- attains self-sufficiency by earning a higher income.
A premarital or prenuptial agreement can also lay out spousal support terms in the event of a divorce, however, many people avoid premarital agreements due to common misconceptions.
Show that Your Spouse Doesn’t Qualify for Alimony
It bears repeating: it’s not easy to qualify for court-ordered spousal maintenance in Texas. Just because you’re getting divorced and your spouse is likely to ask for support does not mean they’ll get it. There are statutory requirements in place they must meet.
For example, in most cases, the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years to meet the most basic threshold of eligibility for spousal maintenance. The only exceptions to this are if:
- you have been prosecuted for committing domestic violence against your spouse or children within two years of filing for divorce, or
- your spouse or any children they will be caring for is physically or mentally disabled, limiting their ability to earn sufficient income.
Negating Statutory Qualifiers
You can challenge your ex spouse’s eligibility for spousal maintenance by showing:
- they are able to provide for their basic minimum needs or at least have the education and ability to find work and earn sufficient income. — Fam. Code § 8.051(2)(B)
- they are not as “disabled” or unable to work as they claim. — Fam. Code § 8.051(2)(A); see B4.02[d]]
- the spouse has not shown diligence in seeking sufficient employment. — Tex. Code§ 8.053(a)
These are just a few common ways to challenge statutory eligibility for court-ordered alimony. Read our additional information on how to avoid or reduce alimony payments in Texas.
Today, Women Pay Alimony Too
Late American actress, model, and frequent divorcee Peggy Hopkins Joyce, a contemporary of John Barrymore’s, once called alimony “a system by which, when two people make a mistake, one of them continues to pay for it.” It is not clear if she, or any woman, was paying alimony in the 1920s.
However, more women do pay alimony, spousal support, and court-ordered maintenance today. The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage has further erased traditional gender lines between who pays alimony and who collects.
Talk to Our Family Law Attorneys About Your Alimony Concerns
So much is at stake in a divorce, especially when it comes to the matter of court-ordered spousal maintenance. You could end up sending your ex up to 20 percent of your monthly earnings for years instead of putting it toward your new future. That’s the difference a skilled and experienced Robinson & Henry family law attorney could make in your life. Call 214-884-3775 to begin your free case assessment.