How Does Domestic Violence Affect Spousal Maintenance?

January 9, 2023 | Nicole Carroll

A lack of financial resources can keep people stuck in an abusive marriage. Your spouse may limit your access to money, earn a higher income, or even forbid you from working. However, if you are able to file for divorce, Texas law may offer you financial relief in the form of spousal maintenance. Read this article to learn how domestic violence can affect spousal maintenance in Texas.

Bottom Line

The court may order your spouse to pay you spousal maintenance if they were convicted of, or received deferred adjudication for, a crime constituting family violence against you or your child within two years of you filing for divorce or while the divorce is pending. 

domestic violence and alimony

Domestic Violence and Spousal Maintenance

What is Spousal Maintenance?

Spousal maintenance, commonly called alimony or spousal support, refers to periodic court-ordered payments from one spouse to another following a divorce.

Texas family courts typically only favor spousal maintenance in very specific circumstances. For example, if you will lack sufficient resources to meet your minimum reasonable needs after the divorce, and if you can prove your spouse committed an act of domestic violence against you or your child, you may be eligible for spousal maintenance.

Establishing Abuse for Alimony

If you can prove that your spouse was convicted of, or received deferred adjudication for, a crime constituting family violence against you or your child, the court may order them to pay you spousal maintenance. (Deferred adjudication is a type of probation that allows someone charged with a crime to keep a conviction off their criminal record if they either plead guilty or no-contest to the charge.)

The act of family violence must have happened within the two years before you filed for divorce or while the divorce is pending. Tex. Fam. Code § 8.051(1)

What is Family Violence?

For your spouse’s actions to constitute family violence, he or she must have intended to cause physical harm, bodily injury, or sexual assault against you or another member of the family. These actions can not have occurred in self-defense.

Family violence also includes child abuse, either physical injury (excluding an accident or reasonable discipline) or sexual abuse. Tex. Fam. Code § 261.001

How Long Can I Receive Spousal Maintenance?

This largely depends on how long your marriage lasted, with some minor exceptions. If you and your spouse were married for less than 10 years, but your spouse committed family violence, he or she may have to pay you spousal support for up to five yearssource: 1 Texas Family Law: Practice and Procedure B4.02 (2022)

The five-year maximum also applies if you and your spouse were married for 10 years, but not more than 20 years. Tex. Fam. Code § 8.054(a)(1)(A)(ii)

You can receive spousal maintenance for up to seven years if you were married for 20 years, but less than 30. For marriages lasting longer than 30 years, the court may order spousal maintenance for up to 10 years.

What if the Abusive Spouse Makes Less Money Than You?

Let’s say your spouse was convicted of, or received deferred adjudication for, a domestic violence-related offense against you. But they make less money than you. Maybe they stay home with the kids, work part time, or are simply in a lower-paying profession than you. Can the court still order them to pay you spousal support? Let’s look at one Fort Bend County case to find out.

A Case of Domestic Violence 

*R&H has changed the names of each spouse in this case to protect the privacy of the domestic violence survivor. 

In July 2004, Jim Doe* received deferred adjudication for assault involving family violence against his wife, Judy*. A year later, Judy filed for divorce after more than a decade of marriage. 

The court granted Judy a protective order against Jim after she testified that he had physically and verbally abused her, even threatening her life. At the final divorce hearing, the court also awarded Judy spousal maintenance.

Husband Appeals

On appeal, Jim claimed the court was wrong to make him pay spousal maintenance when 

Judy earned $53,000 per year and had a college education, while he had only a ninth-grade education and a GED.

The First Court of Appeals found that Judy’s higher education was not a relevant factor in determining whether to award maintenance. However, Jim’s domestic violence charge was relevant:

“Here, it is undisputed that [husband] received deferred adjudication for assault with an affirmative finding of family violence on July 20, 2004, which is within two years of the date that [wife] filed for divorce on July 22, 2005. … Thus, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because [wife] meets the statutory requirement for court-ordered maintenance.” Texas First Court of Appeals

The spouses’ income and education are a determining factor in the amount of maintenance awarded by the court. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.052 However, since Jim’s argument was about the court’s decision to award Judy spousal maintenance, and not the amount of maintenance it awarded, the court overruled Jim’s appeal.

Hire a Strong Family Law Advocate During Your Divorce

Leaving a volatile marriage is difficult. Our family law attorneys will help you gather evidence of your spouse’s violent actions to show the court you are eligible for spousal maintenance. Call 214-884-3775 today to begin your free case assessment.

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