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Alimony, maintenance, support: Word changes reveal shifting norms

Not too long ago, when people in Houston and the rest of Texas talked about alimony, everyone pretty much understood what was being talked about. Alimony was that amount of money that ex-husbands paid to their ex-wives as part of a divorce settlement. At the time, divorce was fault based, women weren't in the workforce supporting themselves and the presumption was that ex-wives were owed the support of their ex-husbands for the rest of their lives.

Times have changed. Conditions have changed. Women don't make as much as men, dollar for dollar, but there are more of them able to make it on their own. That makes the traditional concept of alimony obsolete in many ways. But some situations still make some measure of adequate support necessary. For example, if the couple had children and one of the parents was a stay-at-home caregiver, support may be called for.

Community property laws being what they are in Texas, spouses are expected to divide their assets equally in the event of a divorce - leaving each on equal footing. Ideally, no support would be needed, but if the stay-at-home parent has been out of the workforce for an extended amount of time, some occupational training might be required.

Coming up with terms for how that will be met doesn't have to be left up to the courts in a divorce. Couples can craft their own contractual alimony agreements to suit their particular needs; how much and for how long payments are made can be established through negotiation with the help of skilled legal counsel.

Coming up with an agreement in which support is a factor may well require providing the paying spouse with a greater share of the available assets to balance the scales. And if for some reason the contract is violated, the matter might need to be brought back to court for resolution.

Source: AmercicanBar.org, "Current Trends in Alimony Law: Where Are We Now?," accessed June 6, 2016

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