Divorce can create a host of stressful challenges for both parties. One factor that may have caused difficulty during your divorce was deciding on alimony payments (known as spousal maintenance in Texas).
If you were ordered to pay spousal support to your ex-spouse, there is good news that you may be entitled to a reduction at a later time if you satisfy certain legal requirements.
The key to remember is that just because the court created a final divorce order does not mean your divorce case is over. Some of the court’s orders that are meant to be followed after the divorce is over – including orders for spousal maintenance – can be modified.
So, can spousal maintenance be reduced after the court has ordered it? Yes, so long as the right circumstances are present. Let’s see if your situation matches up with the law.
Explaining Spousal Maintenance in Texas
Spousal maintenance is meant to financially support your ex-spouse after divorce. It is most often ordered in cases where you are more well-off financially, your former spouse is incapable of working, or there are other prevailing circumstances.
When the court deems spousal maintenance appropriate, the court will set both the amount of support you must pay and the period for which you must make payments.
The Purpose of Spousal Maintenance
To understand why spousal maintenance can be reduced following your final divorce order, you need to know why courts award this form of support in the first place.
In some situations, one spouse may exit the divorce with substantially less earning potential than the other. There may be a number of reasons for this:
- One spouse was the primary breadwinner, while the other stayed at home.
- One spouse might have advanced education while there was little time or resources for the other spouse to keep up.
- One spouse sacrificed their career opportunities to support the other spouse’s ambitions.
- Other inequalities in the spousal relationship.
Spousal maintenance is designed to remedy these situations that otherwise would leave your ex-spouse in a difficult financial situation. The court hopes that by giving one party temporary maintenance, that individual will soon be able to establish a new life and support themselves.
How Spousal Maintenance Is Calculated
The maximum amount of spousal support that a court can award is the smaller of either $5,000 per month or 20% of the payor spouse’s gross monthly income – whichever is smaller. In between this upper limit of ordering no maintenance at all, the court can set spousal maintenance at any amount it deems fair under the circumstances.
In deciding what is a fair amount of maintenance, a court can consider:
- The amount of time you and your former spouse were married.
- The earning potential and resources you and your former spouse have.
- The education and employment history of you and your former spouse.
- Training or other programs your former spouse would need to become self-sufficient and the cost of that programming.
As the paying spouse, you will be ordered to pay alimony for a set period of time. This obligation will depend on what your spouse needs and how long the two of you were married. The longer you were married, the longer the court can order spousal support to continue.
Alimony Modifications: A Material Change Can Reduce Spousal Maintenance
Now let’s dive deeper into your question of whether spousal maintenance can be reduced at some point in the future. Yes, the court that ordered you to pay maintenance can reduce or even terminate that obligation prior to the order’s original termination date.
The most critical element to support your argument is there must be evidence of a material and substantial change in circumstances.
Examples of Material Changes in CIrcumstances
Just as courts have discretion to decide what amount of spousal support to order, courts have some leeway to decide whether there has been a material change in circumstance. Generally, these changes are ones that:
- Will last for the foreseeable future;
- Are not the result of you or your spouse deliberately trying to gain an advantage over the other;
- Could not be reasonably anticipated at the time of the original spousal maintenance order;
- Significantly impact either your ability to pay maintenance or your spouse’s need for maintenance.
Some common situations will usually qualify as material changes in circumstances and result in a reduction in maintenance, including the following.
Death or Remarriage of Your Ex
If your former spouse remarries or dies, this is almost always guaranteed to result in a change to spousal maintenance. In addition, if your spouse is cohabitating with a romantic partner without marrying them, this, too, could result in a reduction in spousal support.
Prolonged Job Loss or Illness
If you are diagnosed with a terminal disease or a condition that impacts your earning potential, this unfortunate circumstance would likely result in a reduction or elimination of your spousal maintenance order.
Alternatively, if you lost your job or experienced another situation that impacts the amount of money you receive on a regular basis, you could petition the court to reduce or terminate alimony.
New Job for Your Ex-Spouse
If your ex’s income suddenly increases due to a new job or promotion, you can apply for a reduction in spousal maintenance because their standard of living has improved.
In this situation, your former spouse’s income will be considered in recalculating spousal support payments, which could reduce your alimony obligations.
Can Spousal Maintenance Be Reduced? Contact Parker & Aguilar for Help with a Modification
Now that you know the answer to the question, “Can spousal maintenance be reduced in Texas?” the next step is to discuss your situation with Parker & Aguilar. If you believe there has been a material and substantial change to your situation, we can help formulate a solid argument on your behalf to modify the original order.
Our Texas family law attorneys will help you petition the court and work hard to reduce or eliminate spousal maintenance – if you are eligible.
We currently assist residents in Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, Galveston County, and Matagorda County. If you live in one of these counties, contact us immediately to discuss your current situation.
You can reach us at 979-267-7660 (Angleton office) or 281-944-5485 (Sugar Land office) to speak with a local attorney. We’re here to help you modify the original order and reduce your spousal support obligation.