When a married couple obtains a divorce in Texas, the higher-earning spouse may be ordered to provide financial support to the lower-earning spouse. While most states refer to financial support for a lower-earning spouse as alimony, Texas family law statutes refer to it as spousal support. Whether spousal support is awarded to a lower-earning spouse depends on a number of factors, including the length of the marriage and the income earning potential of the lower-earning spouse, as well as any marital misconduct. To receive an award of spousal support, a lower-earning spouse must file a variety of forms with the appropriate Texas district court.
In order to obtain spousal support, one of the divorcing spouses must first file a divorce petition. While Texas Law Help, a legal aid foundation, offers free divorce forms for uncontested divorces (see Resources), no court form for a divorce in which the lower-earning spouse seeks spousal support is available. You will need to hire an attorney to draft your divorce petition or draft your own. At a minimum, a divorce petition for a spouse seeking spousal support must include the salary of both spouses, any vehicles owned by either spouse and all financial assets acquired during the marriage.
Service or Service Waiver
After one spouse files a divorce petition, that spouse must provide notice of the divorce petition to the other spouse. Personal service is the simplest method of serving the other spouse. A private process server or a sheriff must personally give a copy of the divorce petition to the other spouse and file a certificate of service with the court (see Resources). If the other spouse is not available for service, the divorcing spouse may use an alternate method, such as service by publication. Alternately, the other spouse may waive service by signing a waiver of service and filing the waiver with the court (see Resources).
After filing a divorce petition with a request for spousal support, a judge has the discretion to order temporary or permanent spousal support. Over time, the need for spousal support by the lower-earning spouse may increase or decrease. To obtain a change in spousal support, either spouse may file a modification motion with the Texas district court that granted the final decree of divorce. While Texas Law Help offers a modification motion form, it only covers changes in the need for child support, not spousal support. You will need to retain an attorney or draft your own modification motion, which must include, at a minimum, the factual basis for a change in spousal support.
Order to Employer to Withhold Support
If the higher-earning spouse refuses to pay spousal support or falls behind on payment, the lower-earning spouse has the option of filing with the Texas district court that granted the final divorce decree to garnish the wages of the higher-earning spouse. Texas Law Help makes a garnishment order available on its website (see Resources). After filing the garnishment order with the court, a copy may be filed with the higher-earning spouse’s employer, who is obligated to withhold part of the higher-earning spouse’s wages to pay spousal support.