The provision of alimony payments can be one of the most intensely contested issues in a divorce case. After all, people rarely jump at the chance to financially support someone they’re divorcing, especially for an indefinite period of time.
The concept of alimony as lifestyle support for a former spouse does not reverberate with Texas public policy; however, issues involving post-divorce periodic payments of money from one spouse to another are still a major aspect of divorce cases in the state.
This blog examines the Texas no-alimony policy and the distinction between alimony and spousal maintenance in Texas.
The “No Alimony” Rule in Texas
The establishment of a marital relationship creates certain legal duties for both spouses. Among these spousal duties is the reciprocal duty to support the other spouse, particularly in the realm of finances.
However, Texas public policy prohibited the notion of traditional permanent alimony, reasoning that the termination of the marital relationship also ends a spouse’s duty to support the other spouse.
Texas courts previously held that a party could only rely on their share of community property after divorce. This policy against alimony somewhat changed in 1995 when the legislature specifically recognized the validity of spousal maintenance.
Spousal Maintenance vs. Alimony in Texas
Texas Family Code § 8.001 specifically defines spousal maintenance as “periodic payments from the future income of one spouse for the support of the other spouse.” However, where traditional alimony involved payments with which a former spouse derived their livelihood for an indefinite time, spousal maintenance was intended to help a former spouse for a limited time to become financially independent and self-sufficient.
Because of the subtle distinction between contractual alimony and spousal maintenance in Texas, a marital agreement or divorce settlement that provides for alimony payments should take care not to classify said payments as spousal maintenance if they intend those payments to last on a more permanent basis.
A Tale of Two Public Policies: Freedom of Contract vs. No Alimony
Texas’ no alimony rule greatly restricted a court’s power to order at their discretion alimony payments of a permanent character. However, the parties are free to enter into a contract that provides for future periodic payments that otherwise qualify as alimony.
Texas public policy favors an individual’s freedom of contract, giving individuals the liberty to create a private contractual duty for alimony. For example, a court was authorized to ratify and enforce a prenuptial agreement or divorce settlement with contractual provisions recognizing an alimony obligation, so long as the formal requirements of a valid contract were observed.
Remedies for Breaching an Alimony Provision
The breach of a standard business contract creates a legal cause of action where the non-breaching party may collect compensatory damages for losses that reasonably flowed from the other party’s breach. When it came to spousal maintenance or alimony awards in other jurisdictions, the supported spouse could garnish the obligor spouse’s wages to enforce a spousal support obligation.
However, wage garnishment isn’t a traditional contract remedy. Therefore, courts will not allow a spouse to use wage garnishment to enforce a contractual alimony obligation unless the contract itself expressly provides for wage garnishment as a method of addressing nonpayment of alimony. In the end, courts actively avoid imposing involuntary obligations of spousal support on a party but will not interfere with the party’s right to assume such an obligation under a valid contract voluntarily.
Get Legal Advice About Alimony & Spousal Maintenance in Texas
You don’t have to face a contentious divorce by yourself. At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, we are dedicated to helping you navigate the complicated, legal aspects of dissolving your marriage. Our legal team is committed to working tirelessly to help make sure your legal rights and interests when it comes to divorce matters are duly respected and recognized by the court and the opposing party.
Find out how Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers can assist with your case. Contact us at (940) 293-2313 to schedule a consultation today!