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The face of spousal support is changing

In years past, following divorce, Texas husbands were traditionally the spouse responsible for spousal maintenance, which was also tax deductible for the paying parent. However, the face of spousal maintenance is changing as more women are paying maintenance and new tax laws have been passed.

Beginning in 1979, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that spousal maintenance had to be gender-neutral, courts could order women to pay spousal maintenance. States also began to move away from permanent maintenance that lasted for the recipient spouse's lifetime or their remarriage. Spousal maintenance became intended for rehabilitation and helping a spouse return to the workforce.

Many women now have higher incomes and are not always stay-at-home parents working in lower-wage jobs. Pew Research found that mothers are the primary income earners in 40 percent of households in this country. That being said, only 3 percent of spousal maintenance recipients in this country were male in 2010 according to census data. However, maintenance awards from women are rising as their incomes grow.

Over 45 percent of lawyers witnessed an increase in women paying spousal support, according to a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Additionally, 54 percent of lawyers in the survey said that more mothers are paying child support.

The new federal tax law, taking effect for divorce settlements beginning in 2019, is also changing spousal maintenance and causing uncertainty. Under the law, those paying spousal maintenance will no longer be able to deduct these payments on their taxes. These tax changes may take away the opportunity to make the most of the cash flow between the spouses, since the tax deduction often made spouses more willing to pay maintenance by lowering its cost.

Premarital agreements may help solve some of this uncertainty. By negotiating these agreements, couples may engage in a dialogue and agree on how much maintenance is needed if they divorce. Premarital agreements are being utilized more, especially by millennials. Over half of all lawyers reported an increase in millennials requesting these contracts, according to a 2016 AAML survey.

As this shows, spousal maintenance in the future may look very different than it had in years past. It is important for spouses in Texas going through a divorce to understand the changes in spousal maintenance laws, so they can make educated decisions.

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