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Legislative Changes to Spousal Maintenance in Texas

September 1, 2013 marked the date for changes to the Texas spousal maintenance statutes. Specifically, the Texas Legislature clarified a Court’s ability to enforce by contempt a person’s violation of payment of Chapter 8 spousal maintenance.

§8.059 of the Texas Family Code states that the Court may not enforce by contempt any provision of an agreed order for Chapter 8 spousal maintenance that exceeds the amount of period support the Court could have ordered. Currently, the law for the maximum amount for spousal maintenance is as follows:

§8.055 states: “A court may not order maintenance that requires an obligor to pay monthly more than the lesser of:

(1) $5,000.00; or

(2) 20 percent of the spouse’s average monthly gross income."

When negotiating an Agreed Final Decree of Divorce, one spouse may agree to pay the other spouse spousal maintenance pursuant to Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code. What §8.059 did was clarify a court’s ability to hold a person in contempt of court for their failure to pay Chapter 8 Spousal Maintenance.

Example: Bob and Mary Smith were married for twelve years at the time they divorced. Pursuant to their Agreed Final Decree of Divorce, Bob is to pay Mary $6,000.00 per month for a period of six years pursuant to Chapter 8 of the Texas Family Code. One year after the divorce, Bob no longer pays Mary the $6,000.00 per month he was ordered to pay. After three months of no spousal maintenance payments from Bob, Mary brings an enforcement action of the Agreed Final Decree of Divorce against Bob. Mary requests the court to enforce by contempt Bob’s failure to pay her the monthly spousal maintenance payments of $6,000.00. Under the new statue, the court can only hold Bob in contempt of court for his failure to pay spousal maintenance in the amount of $5,000.00 for each of the three months. The maximum amount the court could have ordered Bob to pay in spousal maintenance is $5,000.00 and therefore, the court can only enforce by contempt the $5,000.00 monthly amount, not the full $6,000.00 monthly amount contained in the Agreed Final Decree of Divorce.