Get to Grips With Alimony Agreements: When Can You Change Them?
Alimony (spousal support, spousal maintenance) can be a big issue in divorce cases in Texas. In many cases, alimony is eventually resolved through an agreement. This raises an important question: Can an alimony agreement be changed in Texas? The short answer is “yes”—as with other ongoing family law obligations, an alimony agreement/order is subject to modification. That being said, an alimony agreement will only be modified if there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances. WIthin this article, our Houston divorce attorney provides a comprehensive overview of the key things you should know about changing alimony agreements.Background: What to Know About Alimony Laws in Texas
Under Texas law (Texas Family Code Sec. 8.001), alimony is officially referred to as “spousal maintenance.” It is defined as an “award in a suit for dissolution of a marriage of periodic payments from the future income of one spouse for the support of the other spouse.” As alimony laws vary from state-to-state, it is crucial that parties to a divorce have an understanding of Texas law. Notably, our state has some of the most restrictive spousal maintenance laws in the entire country. Here are two of the most important background things to know about the alimony laws in Texas:
- Alimony is Not Guaranteed, Can Only Be Awarded in Certain Circumstances: In Texas, alimony is not an automatic entitlement in divorce cases. Instead, it can only be awarded under specific circumstances. To start, the spouse seeking alimony must prove that they lack sufficient financial resources/earning power to support themselves. Beyond that, the petitioner must also assert at least one of the following: 1) There was family violence, 2) They have a mental/physical disability, 3) They are caring for a child with a disability, 4) They were married for at least ten years and are not in a position to earn sufficient income.
- Texas has a Statutory Cap On the Amount of Alimony a Court Can Order: Texas law imposes a statutory cap on the amount of alimony a spouse can receive. In this way, Texas stands in sharp contrast to most other U.S. jurisdictions, where alimony awards are not capped as a matter of law. The maximum alimony amount is either 20% of the paying spouse's average monthly gross income or $5,000, whichever amount is lower.
In Texas, alimony agreements are not set in stone and can be modified if there is a substantial change in either party's circumstances. A significant change may include a considerable increase or decrease in income, the loss of a job, or the development of a serious illness or disability. Either party can petition the court to modify the existing alimony agreement, presenting evidence of the changed circumstances. The court will then review the case and make a determination based on the best interests of both parties. This flexibility ensures that alimony arrangements remain fair and equitable over time, even as the financial situations of the involved parties evolve.An Overview of the Impact of New Relationships on an Alimony Agreement in Texas
By far, the single leading reason why people seek alimony modifications in Texas is because of a new relationship. How does a new romantic relationship after a divorce impact alimony in Texas? It depends entirely on the specific circumstances. Here is a breakdown of four common scenarios:
- Alimony Recipient Gets Remarried: If the recipient of alimony gets remarried in Texas, that means that financial obligations stop. The law requires the re-marrying spouse to notify their former partner. As soon as a remarriage is finalized, there are no more obligations. A recipient spouse that fails to notify their former partner of a remarriage, may be in violation.
- Alimony Recipient Enters New Supportive Relationship: A new supportive, but non-marital relationship may also be good cause to terminate alimony obligations in Texas. A supportive relationship is generally defined as a marriage-like cohabitation between long-term romantic partners. To be clear, you cannot automatically stop paying alimony because of your former spouse’s new supportive relationship. You need a court order.
- Alimony Recipient Starts Dating Someone: What happens of the recipient of alimony starts dating a new person? That is not good cause to end alimony obligations under Texas law. Only an actual marriage or a financially-supportive long-term relationship can be used as justification to seek the termination of alimony payments. A dating relationship is not sufficient to end spousal support obligations on its own.
- Alimony Obligor Gets Remarried or Otherwise Enters New Relationship: What happens if the person who is paying spousal maintenance (the obligor) gets remarried or otherwise enters a new supportive relationship? In Texas, that fact will have no direct effect on their duty to keep paying alimony. If you have any questions about this type of matter, an experienced Houston, TX family law attorney can help.
Spousal maintenance modification cases can be complex and emotionally charged. You do not have to navigate the modification case on your own. A Houston divorce lawyer with experience navigating family law modifications can help you determine the appropriate course of action. Whether you are seeking to stop paying or reduce your spousal maintenance obligations, a lawyer will be able to review the specific situation, explain the law, gather support documents/records, and take action to protect your rights and your interests.Contact Our Houston Alimony Attorney Today
At Thornton Esquire Law Group, PLLC, our Houston family and divorce lawyer has extensive experience handling alimony cases. If you have any questions about alimony modifications, we are here to help. Give us a phone call now at (713) 401-3998 or connect with us directly online for a completely confidential review of your case. With a law office in Houston, we help clients with alimony and other family law matters in Harris County and throughout all of Southeast Texas.