Truth

Not all states are made equal.  This is especially true with spousal maintenance.  California and New York are great states to be in if you poll divorcees about their maintenance awards.  But Texas falls short in the spousal maintenance arena.  And just as you cannot choose where you are born, you also cannot choose where you get divorced for the most part.

Many of my divorce client assume that Texas automatically provides for spousal maintenance, or what is called, “alimony” in other states.  While it may not be fair to those clients who have stayed in long-suffering, loveless marriage for decades, or those who have forgone career opportunities, spousal maintenance is largely a DREAM, especially if you are seeking the maximum guidelines provided by the Texas Family Code.

This dream of $5000 per month for 10 years after a 30-year marriage is not in sync with how the law typically plays out in divorce cases in Texas.  Unfortunately, spousal maintenance maximums do not materialize in many of the verdicts throughout the North Texas region.  This is not to say that maintenance cannot be a REALITY, but you need to argue the following factors to ensure recovery: income disparity. fault in the breakup of the marriage, lack of business contacts, homemaker contributions, and family violence to mention a few. 

Texas Courts are given statutory spousal maintenance guidelines, but how these guidelines are drafted versus how they are interpreted are two different matters. The statutory guidelines for the length of spousal maintenance under the Texas Family Code provide the following limits based upon the number of years in the marriage:

  1. Married 0 years to 9- ZERO maintenance
  2. Married 10-19 years- 5 years of maintenance
  3. Married 20-29 years- 7 years of maintenance
  4. Married 30 plus years- 10 years of maintenance

Fact: Spousal Maintenance is discretionary.  Per the Texas Family Code, the statutory cap for spousal maintenance is 20% of average gross income or $5000 per month. Sadly, the awards that I have seen in Dallas,Collin and Denton Counties do no match the guidelines above. Based upon observation in my divorce litigation, usually, the duration is an average range of 3-5 years, regardless of the duration of the marriage.  Likewise, the amount awarded is many times a fraction of the 20% gross monthly amount or $5000.  Instead, I’ve seen trends showing that while the Texas Legislature has guidelines, nobody’s truly following them for maintenance.  So, the answer is that “guideline spousal maintenance” is a MYTH.

Conversely, our judges follow the Texas Child Support Guidelines to the letter of the law.  They reference the income charts, calculate the percentage based upon net income, and— almost to the dollar— Texas Courts follow the child support guidelines strictly per the Texas Family Code.  So, the moral of the story: you can bank on receipt of child support according to the code, but don’t bet the farm that you will awarded anything near guideline spousal maintenance in Texas.

In trying to reconcile why the Texas Courts grant greater weight to the statutory guidelines and caps for child support versus spousal maintenance, I believe that the discretionary nature of spousal maintenance says it all.  Nonetheless, maintenance is always worth a shot so long as you meet the 10 year mark for marriage.    

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