Modifications to alimony, legally known as spousal support in Texas, can be difficult to receive. We provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about modifying spousal maintenance after divorce.
Courts will only modify Texas spousal maintenance “on a proper showing of a material and substantial change in circumstances that occurred after the date of the order or decree.” Texas Family Code § 8.057
The modification only applies to future payments, and the court “may not increase maintenance to an amount or duration that exceeds the amount or remaining duration of the original maintenance order.” Tex. Fam. Code § 8.057
Per Texas law, alimony payments cannot exceed $5,000 per month or 20 percent of the spouse’s average monthly gross income.
A Texas family law court must compare the financial circumstances of both spouses at the time of the existing order with their circumstances at the time a modification is sought. Without both sets of data, the court has nothing to compare. Therefore, it cannot determine whether a material and substantial change has occurred. Further, if no changes have occurred, the trial court abuses its discretion if it modifies the spousal maintenance. Tex. Fam. Code § 8.057
If you are the paying spouse, you must continue spousal maintenance payments even if you begin a new relationship or get remarried.
If your ex-spouse to whom you pay alimony, known as spousal maintenance, remarries or moves in with a new romantic partner, this ends your financial obligation to them. This only applies to future payments. If you are in arrears, you are still responsible for all alimony payments that accrued before the date of termination. Tex. Fam. Code § 8.056
First, you must file a motion to modify alimony in the court that rendered the original order. Next, the court will give formal notice of a hearing to you and your former spouse.
The hearing is where you will present evidence of a “substantial and material change” in your life circumstances. The court will use that evidence to decide whether to grant your motion. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 8.057 (2006)
You still may be responsible for spousal maintenance.
In one 2018 case, a Denton County man filed a motion to modify spousal maintenance after he claimed he could no longer afford the $1,600 monthly payments to his ex-wife. The man testified he could not work due to a worsening medical disability. He further reported that he was receiving Social Security disability income, required assistance from his mother, and did not have sufficient funds to pay his own monthly living expenses.
The Second Court of Appeals denied the man’s modification request, finding that he had not presented any medical testimony or records to demonstrate his inability to work and earn a sufficient income to support himself while maintaining his spousal maintenance obligation:
“That is, while Norbert may not currently be able to physically perform his third job that “included a lot of labor,” there was no testimony to demonstrate that Norbert is unable to obtain employment in some other less labor-intensive job. With respect to his disability, Norbert acknowledged that he had suffered from the same disease at the time of the divorce decree (although he maintained that it had worsened). Thus, while Norbert’s condition may have worsened (again, he presented no medical testimony or records), there was no evidence to show that it was a changed rather than an anticipated circumstance.” Bolda v. Bolda, No. 02-18-00307-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 10341, at *14-15 (Tex. App. Nov. 27, 2019)
In a word, no:
“A loss of employment or circumstances that render a former spouse unable to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs by reason of incapacitating physical or mental disability that occur after the divorce or annulment are not grounds for the institution of spousal maintenance for the benefit of the former spouse.” Tex. Fam. Code § 8.057
This is why it’s most important to work out a favorable agreement on spousal maintenance or contractual alimony before the divorce is final.