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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Alvin and Brenda Green divorced in 2004, and the district court’s final divorce decree stated that Alvin had agreed “contractually” to pay Brenda $1,950 a month in spousal maintenance. The decree specified that the $1,950 payments would continue from February 2004 until April 1, 2005, and then drop to $1,450 per month until Jan. 19, 2016. Texas Family Code �8.057(c) allows for modification of maintenance orders upon a showing of “a material and substantial change in circumstances of either party.” Several months after the parties signed the 2004 divorce decree, Alvin sought a reduction in his spousal support obligations on grounds of inability to pay. The same district court that entered the divorce decree, but with a different judge, denied the motion, stating that the spousal maintenance at issue was not in fact maintenance, but “contractual alimony agreed by the parties to affect [sic] a fair division of the community estate.” Thus, the payments were not subject to modification. In January 2006, Brenda filed a Second Motion for Enforcement and First Motion to Revoke Suspension of Commitment, arguing that Alvin had failed to make spousal support payments and to maintain health insurance for their children as required by the divorce decree. Brenda requested that Alvin be held in contempt and incarcerated. After a hearing, the district court granted this motion. The court signed an order prepared by Brenda but crossed out some of Brenda’s proposed language. As punishment for criminal contempt, the order committed Alvin to the county jail for 180 days for the seven instances of failure to pay spousal support. In a section styled Civil Contempt, the order incarcerated Alvin until he paid $32,384.92 to Brenda and provided proof of current health insurance coverage for the children. Alvin was thereupon incarcerated. He sought habeas corpus relief in the 5th Court of Appeals, which denied relief without opinion. He then sought a writ of habeas corpus from the Texas Supreme Court. The court granted temporary relief and ordered him released on $3,000 bond pending review of his petition. HOLDING:The court granted Alvin’s application for a writ of habeas corpus and ordered his release from confinement. Art. I, �18, of the Texas Constitution states: “No person shall ever be imprisoned for debt.” Construing this provision, the court noted its precedent “that a failure to pay support promised under a prenuptial agreement is not punishable by contempt.” Similarly, the court found that “[t]he failure to pay a private alimony debt, even one referenced in a court order, is not contempt punishable by imprisonment.” Under Chapter Eight of the Family Code, the court noted, the trial court in a divorce matter may order spousal maintenance. But under �8.051, a spouse can only be ordered to pay maintenance if the spouse has committed a recent act of family violence; or the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the receiving spouse cannot support himself or herself due to disability, is the full-time custodian of a disabled child of the marriage, or “clearly lacks earning ability in the labor market adequate to provide support for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs.” Moreover, under ��8.054 and 8.056, such maintenance cannot exceed three years, and the obligation terminates if the receiving spouse remarries. Thus, because the payment obligation in Alvin’s case exceeded three years and there were no findings that Brenda was herself disabled, was caring for a disabled child or lacked sufficient earning ability, Alvin’s payments were not spousal maintenance under the Texas Family Code. Rather, they were part of a “private alimony contract.” OPINION:Per curiam.

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