Divorce in Texas has taken on a powerful changed dynamic – alimony. The six District Court Judges in Denton Texas will have their hands full deciphering the new alimony laws.
Alimony has been available in Texas for more than a decade. They don’t call it alimony, mind you. It’s spousal maintenance, and it’s been mighty difficult to get in any court handling divorces – even Denton County.
That all changes on September 1, 2011, the date the new alimony law goes into effect.
Alimony is now based upon the spouses’ relative earning ability and property. If there is an inequality, then the spouse with the lesser amount can receive alimony to provide for “minimum reasonable needs” in certain circumstances. The circumstances are defined by the law; the “minimum reasonable needs” will be determined by each Denton Judge on a case by case basis.
What, then, are the circumstances? First, is the spouse a victim of family violence? If so, that’s good for up to 5 years of support.
Second, how long has the couple been married? Between 10 (sorry, anything less than 10 doesn’t qualify),
and 20 years, then the spouse can receive up to 5 years alimony support. Married bliss between 20 and 30 years is rewarded with up to 7 years of support. And anything after 30 can bring an alimony of award of up to 10 years. That’s enough to have some couples filing for a Denton County divorce at the 9.5 year mark. It’s too expensive to stay together “until the kids are grown.”
And then there’s that phrase “minimum reasonable needs.” Remember, alimony is calculated separately from child support. Would a spouse without children be entitled to a bigger payment to maintain his or her lifestyle? Does an existing lifestyle determine “minimum reasonable needs,” or should it be calculated on a one-room apartment and bus tokens? How will the court of appeals even review the alimony award – will it give deference to the district judge’s discretion, or will the appellate courts fashion guidelines? Will a Collin county spouse automatically receive more than a Denton County spouse?
What about prenuptial agreements? Can the spouses “contract away” their alimony obligation? How does this come into play with existing agreements?
Stay tuned. There are going to be a lot of fireworks on this one.