A mother going through a divorce playing with her child outside wondering about the difference between alimony and child support

What Is The Difference Between Alimony and Child Support?

Going through a divorce is a difficult situation that comes with a lot of new territories. You’re likely learning about what documents you need to file, how divorce works in the state of Texas, how long the legal process works, and what your new living situation might look like.

If you have children through the marriage, you likely also have questions about the difference between alimony and child support. This can often be a confusing issue during a divorce because both alimony and child support are forms of payment, but they fall into two different buckets.

I’ll help answer your question and provide you with some helpful information as you navigate this new divorce situation.

How to Distinguish Between Alimony and Child Support in Texas

Alimony, known as spousal maintenance in Texas, is a form of payment made from one spouse to another spouse designed to support the receiving spouse directly.

Comparatively, child support is a scheduled payment made from one parent to another parent that is specifically designated to support the care and upbringing of the child(ren) through the marriage.

Let’s examine the differences between spousal maintenance and child support more closely.

1. How Spousal Maintenance Works in Texas

As part of the divorce process, “maintenance” is legally 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.”

If maintenance is awarded, the court will determine the obligor (the person who is ordered to make payments) and the obligee (the person who is entitled to receive the payments).

However, not every divorce proceeding is guaranteed to qualify for spousal maintenance payments. Texas law identifies three situations where the spouse seeking maintenance could be deemed eligible to receive payments:

  • The potential obligee is unable to earn sufficient income to provide for their reasonable needs because of an incapacitating physical or mental disability.
  • The potential obligee has been married to their spouse for 10+ years and lacks the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for their reasonable needs.
  • The potential obligee is the custodian of a child through the marriage who requires substantial care and supervision due to a physical or mental disability that prevents the obligee from earning sufficient income.

The court may also evaluate other unique circumstances where spousal maintenance could be awarded. However, those are the three primary qualifications that are identified by Texas law.

– If spousal maintenance is awarded, the court will determine the “nature, amount, duration, and manner” of periodic payments from the obligor to the obligee. The court will weigh relevant factors to make this determination.

Texas law identifies 11 factors that weigh in this decision. However, other factors could weigh in the decision, as determined by the nature of the case. The factors identified by law include the duration of the marriage, the employment history of the obligee, the assets obtained through the marriage, whether domestic violence was involved, and other factors.

The court will use these factors to determine how long the obligor should continue to make payments to the obligee. Take note that the court can order spousal maintenance “for as long as the spouse continues to satisfy the eligibility criteria.”

However, the obligor does have the ability to request a periodic review of maintenance. This spouse can petition the court to review whether there should be a change and pursue a modification of the existing court order.

2. How Child Support Works in Texas

Also, as part of dissolving the marriage, a Texas court can order one spouse to make child support payments to the other spouse who will be primarily responsible for the care and upbringing of the child(ren) on a daily basis.

If child support is granted by the court, the standard process is for the non-custodial parent (obligor) to be ordered to make child support payments to the custodial parent (obligee). In some situations, the court may order both parents to make periodic payments for the child’s support, and this is not typical.

The amount of child support payments is determined by a schedule based on the obligor’s monthly net resources. Texas law has set aside the following schedule:

  • 1 child to support: 20% of Obligor’s Net Resources
  • 2 children to support: 25% of Obligor’s Net Resources
  • 3 children to support: 30% of Obligor’s Net Resources
  • 4 children to support: 35% of Obligor’s Net Resources
  • 5 children to support: 40% of Obligor’s Net Resources
  • 6+ children to support: Not less than the amount for 5 children

There are guidelines for when child support payments could cease or be reduced (e.g., a reduction in obligation from 4 children to 3 children). Texas law identifies these reasons why an obligor would no longer be required to make payments for each specific child:

  • A child reaches 18 years of age or graduates from high school (whichever occurs last).
  • The child is married or is no longer considered a minor by a court order.
  • The death of the child.

The court may also consider other situations that terminate the parent-child relationship, such as one of the children being adopted by another family or a paternity test determining that the obligor is not the parent of a child. In this case, the obligor would be released of their obligation to make child support payments for each affected child.

Find Support from an Expert Divorce Attorney

Every divorce case is different. I know it can seem overwhelming trying to learn how Texas law applies to your unique circumstances. That’s why I am here to help answer your questions and provide you with expert legal support.

My law practice focuses exclusively on family law so that I can provide the highest level of legal support for your case. I can help you better understand the difference between alimony and child support while also providing the representation you need in family court.

I support both sides of the coin, whether you expect to receive payments or make payments following the divorce. I can help you receive all that you are entitled to or help minimize your payment obligations to the other spouse.

If you live in Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, or Harris County, then reach out to me today to get started. I will serve as a fierce advocate helping you arrive at the best possible financial situation.

Call my offices at 281-944-5485 or 979-267-7660 to discuss your divorce case. I am here to help!