Here’s an interesting article that appeared on bloomberg.com today about some other States’ laws which allow for lifetime alimony obligations in amounts far beyond what the obligee can pay:
Good to hear that there’s some movement in those States to change their laws. This is one area, at least, where Texas law (regularly ridiculed in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, I’m sure) is pretty “progressive”. Texas doesn’t use the term “alimony”, here its called “maintenance”, but Chapter 8 of the Family Code sets out the rules:
First, a spouse seeking maintenance has to prove their eligibility for it. In general, the eligibility criteria are (see Family Code Sec.8.051):
1) the other spouse was convicted of domestic violence while the divorce is pending, or in the two years preceding the case being filed;
2) the requesting spouse is unable to meet his or her minimum reasonable needs because of an “incapacitating physical or mental disability”;
3) the marriage has been 10 years or longer and the requesting spouse lacks “the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs”; or
4) the requesting spouse has custody of a child of the marriage who “requires substantial care and personal supervision because of a physical or mental disability” that prevents the requesting spouse from working and supporting his- or herself.
After determining that the requesting spouse is eligible for maintenance, the Court will look at a lot of factors in determining what to order, if anything (being eligible doesn’t necessarily mean you get it). See Family Code Sec. 8.052. The factors include, among other things:
1) each spouse’s ability to provide for that spouse’s minimum reasonable needs independently;
2) the education and employment skills of the spouses; and
3) the effect on each spouse’s ability to provide for that spouse’s minimum reasonable needs while providing periodic payments of child support and maintenance.
The use of the word “each” in that last factor is key – and seems to be what the law in some of the States in that article disregard: is the person being ordered to pay the maintenance going to have two nickels left to rub together after complying with the court order.
Chapter 8 of the Family Code also sets rules for how long the maintenance order can go on (it depends, in part, on how long the marriage lasted – see Family Code Sec. 8.054) and a cap on the maximum amount of maintenance that the Court can order (the lesser of $5,000, or 20% of the paying spouse’s monthly gross income – see Family Code Sec. 8.055).
The Family Code also provides rules on when a maintenance order can be terminated early (generally, when the receiving spouse moves in with someone he or she is having a romantic relationship with – see Family Code Sec. 8.056). Short of termination of the maintenance, the Family Code (Sec. 8.057) also provides for the amount of the monthly maintenance to be modified. The Code only explicitly mentions reductions in the section on modification and I am currently appealing a case where the judge, unilaterally, increased the amount of my client’s maintenance obligation. I think the Family Code makes clear that that was improper, I’ll post an update on whether the Court of Appeals agrees with me after they issue their decision.