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Understanding alimony: Who can qualify?

Financial worries loom large for many people facing divorce - especially if your spouse was the breadwinner. You may have been out of the workforce for years. Perhaps you quit your job to raise kids. Maybe an intervening disability has kept you from working. Or perhaps you put your own career on the backburner so your spouse could pursue theirs. Now you're left wondering how you will ever make ends meet on your own.

Alimony may seem like the answer, but in Texas, it's not a sure thing. Alimony (technically called maintenance) is generally only available to those who were married for at least 10 years and cannot provide for their own reasonable financial needs. Special circumstances - such as domestic violence, a disability or a prenuptiual agreement - can also be grounds for getting alimony, regardless of the length of the marriage.

Even if you qualify, however, courts aren't required to award alimony. The judge will decide whether to do so based on circumstances such as:

  • The length of your marriage
  • Your financial resources and property (and that of your spouse)
  • Your age, working history and potential for employment
  • Your contribution to your spouse's education
  • Your contributions as a homemaker
  • Any child support obligations
  • Any wasteful or fraudulent handling of marital property
  • Adultery, domestic violence or other types of misconduct

The judge will also consider whether you made a good-faith effort to get a job or pursue job retraining.

In many divorce cases, the judge won't make the alimony determination. You and your spouse will. Alimony is often a hot topic for negotiation. Mediation, collaborative law and other forms of alternative dispute resolution can place much of the decision-making power back in your hands.

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