Effective September 1, 2011, Texas Spousal Maintenance–also known as spousal support or alimony–will undergo numerous changes, including how support will be determined and how many payments will be required.
The biggest changes to the new statute include increasing the maximum duration of the spousal support payments, based on the length of the marriage, and increasing the amounts that can be ordered by the Court.
Whereas before, the duration of the payments could not be ordered for more than three years after the date of the signed order, now, alimony payments could go as long as 10 years if the marriage lasted longer than 30 years. The limit of the payments has also been increased from $2500 or 20% of gross income (whichever is less) to $5,000 or 20% of gross income (whichever is less).
It’s unclear how the Courts will use the new provisions, but, what is extremely clear is that the total amount of potential alimony that can be ordered by the Court has increased dramatically!
Other changes include that the spouse seeking support no longer has to prove that he or she is not able to support his or her lifestyle through employment. The question now is, is the spouse unable to earn a sufficient income to support his or her minimal and reasonable needs? As a result, the spouse no longer needs employment counseling.
In cases that unfortunately include family violence, the statute changes apply only in cases where the violence occurred during the marriage and not before the marriage. In addition, there is no scrutiny as to whether the spouse seeking alimony has sufficient property to provide for the family’s minimal and reasonable needs.
The statute has also changed the ability to enforce spousal payments by contempt of court, in that there is no contempt of court for not paying spousal support if the length of time the parties agreed upon for payments exceeds the duration that the court could have ordered. For instance, if you and your spouse have an agreed order to pay alimony for longer than the court could have ordered, such as 15 years for a 20 year marriage, if the paying spouse stops payments after the point that the court could have ordered, those payments cannot be enforced by contempt. They are then considered contractual payments, and they can be enforced via that route, but not through a family law judge. However, the statute does not provide that Courts can enforce agreed, contractual alimony by contempt for the portion that could have been ordered by the Court. This is something that has been unclear in Texas law for some time and greatly impacts the enforceability, and options for enforcement, of agreed divorce decrees.
All of these are huge changes to an established Texas statute, and they can greatly affect the terms of your upcoming divorce.
These changes apply to all cases filed on or after September 1, 2011 . If you are planning to file for divorce, now is definitely the time to get in contact with your local family law attorney, to determine whether you should consider this fast-approaching date in your decision about when to file.