If you’re like many people headed for divorce, you may be wondering how to avoid paying spousal support or how to avoid alimony once your divorce is finalized. Depending on your situation, there may be steps you can take to completely avoid or minimize the financial support you pay to your ex but it’s important to understand how alimony and spousal support work in Texas because the two are not one and the same.
How do alimony and spousal support work in Texas?
Unlike some states, Texas is a community property state with laws specifically designed to compensate divorcing spouses through the just and right division of their marital estate. All assets, property and debts accumulated from date of marriage to date of divorce are subject to division in Texas divorce.
When the court makes a just and right division of the estate, it will also determine whether spousal maintenance (not alimony) is appropriate based on the couple’s unique circumstances. This includes taking into account what assets and property each party receives in the divorce, along with other factors.
In Texas, alimony is only awarded by contract not by the courts. You can’t ask a Texas court to award you alimony—Texas courts have no jurisdiction to do so. However, you and your ex could negotiate a divorce settlement that includes alimony payments, a lump sum cash payment and/or transfer of other assets or property. Your negotiated settlement could also include spousal maintenance.
The state of Texas does provide clear guidelines on spousal maintenance—often referred to as spousal support—in the Texas Family Code, Section 8.001. Details include under what circumstances a spouse may request maintenance, how much the paying spouse would be required to pay (capped at $5,000/month or 20% of the payor’s gross income, whichever is less) and for how long.
How to get out of paying alimony and how to get out of paying spousal support in Texas
Get a prenup or post-marital agreement.
The state of Texas does allow parties to waive the right to alimony and spousal maintenance in prenuptial agreements and post-marital agreements. Keep in mind, both parties must agree to any directives stipulated in their Texas prenup or postnup. The agreement must also be in writing, signed by both parties and properly drafted and executed in order to be enforceable. If your marriage is already on the rocks, this may not be an option.
Negotiate a different type of divorce settlement.
If you’re wondering how to not pay alimony or spousal support, hiring an experienced family law attorney to negotiate your divorce settlement is an important first step. Since Texas is a community property state, the courts are willing to look at alternative options for dividing the community estate and a skilled attorney can help you explore those different avenues.
As noted previously, one way how to avoid paying alimony or maintenance is to pay your spouse a one-time, lump sum up front, which may cost you less over the long term. This option is appealing to some parties who like the idea of receiving a big check right away. Just be sure to consult a financial advisor and tax specialist to ensure this option is beneficial over the long term and based on current tax laws.
Your spouse may also be willing to forgo alimony or spousal support if you’re willing to allow him or her to keep the family home or other property or valuable assets. Every situation is different, and different people value different things. A good divorce attorney will help you piece together the different assets in your estate and decide what is worth fighting for and what is worth letting go.
Use fault grounds to win a more favorable divorce settlement.
While Texas is a no-fault state when it comes to divorce (which means you don’t need to prove fault in order to get a divorce), the courts will consider certain fault grounds when determining how to divide the marital estate. The four fault grounds in Texas include cruelty, adultery, conviction of a felony and abandonment.
In order to prove fault, you will need to provide solid evidence that the fault actually occurred, as well as the gravity of that fault. Just because you can prove fault based on Texas fault grounds doesn’t guarantee you can avoid paying spousal support; however, the judge may consider it depending on the circumstances involved with your case.
Finalize your divorce as soon as possible.
While this tactic won’t work in every situation where you’re wondering how to not pay spousal support, you may be able to avoid paying spousal support if you’ve only been married for a short period of time.
At the very least, you may be required to pay spousal support for a shorter period of time because, well, you’ve been married for a shorter period of time. For example, your spouse may not qualify for spousal support if you’ve been married less than 10 years, unless you’ve been found responsible for family violence. Otherwise, you may be required to pay spousal support for up to 5 years if you’ve been married 10-20 years; up to 7 years if married 20-30 years; up to 10 years if married 30 years or more.
Prove your spouse is able to support their “minimum reasonable needs.”
While the state of Texas does have provisions for spousal support in the event of divorce, the state actually presumes that neither spouse should receive spousal support unless a party can prove he or she is financially unable to meet their “minimum reasonable needs.”
The court will consider a number of factors when determining whether maintenance is warranted in these cases, including the spouses’ ages, health, education, employment sector, as well as whether a parent is paying child support, has custody of the children and other factors.
So, spousal support isn’t a given in Texas. If you can prove your spouse has the means to support him or herself and/or find gainful employment, you may be able to resolve your quandary regarding how to avoid paying spousal support.
Pray your ex shacks up with or marries a new partner (or comes into money).
Already paying spousal support and wondering how to get out of paying spousal support in Texas? The state of Texas will allow you to request to terminate spousal support under certain circumstances.
These circumstances include your ex’s remarriage or cohabitation with an intimate partner, as well as the death of either party. You may also ask to terminate support if the other party’s or your financial circumstances have changed. If your ex wins the lottery or gets a job that allows him or her to meet their minimum reasonable needs—or you lose your job or earning potential—you may be able to terminate or pay less in spousal support.
Common questions (and misconceptions) about how to avoid paying alimony or spousal support
Some people assume they can skip town, move across state lines or reside in a different country to avoid paying alimony, spousal support and child support. Here are a few common questions people ask about these topics.
Can I move out of state to avoid alimony or spousal support payments?
If you’ve signed a contract in Texas agreeing to pay alimony to your ex and you move to Alaska (or another state) you are still contractually obligated to pay alimony as you contractually agreed. The same holds true for spousal support. If a court in Texas ordered you to pay spousal support to your ex-spouse for a certain period of time, you will still be obligated to pay the spousal support ordered, plus interest.
If the shoe is on the other foot, and your ex moved out of state to avoid paying alimony or spousal support to you, it is critical to contact an attorney right away to discuss your options. While your ex is legally required to pay you the alimony or spousal support owed, people do have a way of disappearing, which may make it difficult for you to collect.
Can I avoid alimony by moving overseas?
Just like moving across state lines, if you are legally obligated to pay alimony or spousal support under an agreement in Texas, you will still be legally obligated to pay if you move overseas. Now, you may be able to avoid paying alimony or spousal support while your ex tries to track you down, but you may lose access to any children you share and face severe consequences if and when you return the United States.
If you don’t pay spousal support or alimony you are obligated to pay, you would be subject to enforcement of the decree or contract and ordered to pay the money owed plus interest. You could also be found in criminal contempt and be sent to jail if you’ve returned from overseas. In addition, the other party could be awarded a judgment against you, which they could try to abstract from you by going after property you own.
Do I have to pay alimony if I have custody (or pay spousal support if I have custody)?
Again, if you signed a contract agreeing to pay alimony to your ex, you remain contractually obligated to pay that alimony unless or until you convince your ex to modify or terminate that contract. That usually isn’t an easy task to accomplish.
On the other hand, Texas family courts may modify or terminate orders for spousal support if there has been a material and substantial change in the circumstances of either party. The court will consider the same factors it considered when initially determining whether spousal support was warranted in the couple’s case (Section 8.052 of the Texas Family Code, “Factors in Determining Maintenance”).
It’s worth noting that you should speak with your attorney as soon as possible when either party’s financial circumstances change materially and substantially. For example, you can only request a modification in spousal support or child support in Texas from the date of service moving forward—not retroactively.
If you agree to pay alimony to two exes and sign a contract agreeing to do so, in both cases you will be responsible for paying alimony to two exes. Now, if you are already paying spousal support to one ex, and are getting divorced for a second time, the court may also order you to pay spousal support to the second ex as well. Your attorney can explain what you will likely be expected to pay to each.
Wondering how to avoid paying alimony or spousal support in Texas, and think you have a solid case?
The Sisemore Law Firm is here to help. If you’d like to speak with a divorce attorney Fort Worth, contact us to schedule a confidential case review with our founder attorney Justin Sisemore. Justin will take a deep dive into your case and explain what options are available to you based on your circumstances. You can reach our Fort Worth law firm by calling our office at (817) 336-4444 or connecting with us online.
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