Alimony refers to the amount of money that one spouse must pay the other for support and maintenance after the dissolution of the marriage. The amount of support one spouse must provide the other following divorce is determined by court order. Alimony is intended to uphold the standard of living both spouses had during the marriage. In the past, alimony was typically awarded to the wife and paid by the husband. However, over time judges began to award spousal support on a case-by-case basis depending on a number of factors.
Alimony, or spousal support, may be awarded by the court when a couple gets a divorce. The details may be the result of an agreement the couple reached or if no agreement can be reached, by the court itself. Alimony is meant to limit the unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing continuing income to the non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse. It is supposed to last as long as is needed for the recipient spouse to become self-supportive, through education or training. If the decree does not state when payments will end, then continue until the court orders them to cease. Even the death of the payer does not necessarily end the payments. If for whatever reason, the recipient spouse is unlikely to become self-supportive, the court may order that the estate or life insurance of the payer continue to provide additional support. However, alimony typically ends upon the remarriage of the recipient’s spouse.
Unlike child support, which is determined according to rigid guidelines, courts have considerable discretion in determining if they will award alimony and if they do, the amount and time period for which it lasts. The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, which is the basis for many states’ laws, recommends that the following factors be considered when considering alimony:
- The age, physical, emotional, and financial condition of the former spouses
- The period of time the recipient would require for education or training in order to become self-sufficient
- The standard of living during the marriage
- The length of the marriage
- The ability of the payer to support the recipient and still support himself or herself.
Additionally, a judge will evaluate any economic circumstances of either spouse that they believe will help them reach a just decision.
Once the judge determines which spouse will receive spousal support, there are a few ways in which the alimony can be awarded.
Permanent alimony is to be paid until the payer dies or until the recipient remarries. In some states, cohabitation laws apply and alimony ends when the recipient moves in with another partner.
Lump-sum refers to one whole alimony payment rather than periodic payments. It is important to know that lump sum alimony is taxable. Speak with a qualified divorce attorney before agreeing to this kind of payment.
Temporary alimony lasts only a specific amount of time, typically one or two years, and is normally awarded when both spouses are on even ground, but one spouse needs additional financial assistance to “get on their feet.”
Rehabilitative alimony is awarded in situations when the recipient is able to enter the workforce and become self-supporting but needs financing for the education necessary to go back to work. Rehabilitative alimony is the most commonly awarded type of alimony.
It is important to bear in mind that all alimony payments will end upon death of the payer.
It is hard to determine the amount of the award and even more difficult to predict if the payer will go along with the order. Unlike child-support enforcement, enforcement mechanisms, alimony enforcement does not. However, the recipient could return to court in a contempt proceeding in order to compel payment.
While in the past, payments were almost always made from the husband to the wife, this trend is reversing, due to the rise of women who are less dependent on their spouses.
Because alimony and divorce laws vary so much from state to state, it is imperative to seek the assistance of a qualified divorce attorney who can help protect your legal rights and options. If you would like to learn more about alimony, please contact us to speak with a qualified and experienced divorce attorney in your area.
Modifying Alimony Payments
If part of your divorce decree involved alimony payments, you may be wondering if it is possible to modify it. After all, circumstances can change and your financial situation may not be what it was when your divorce was finalized. Even if your current predicament is only temporary, you can still request a modification of your alimony payments.
Before you take your former spouse to court to petition the modification, you should try to have a discussion and attempt to reach an agreement. Doing so will save you time and money, but remember you will still need to go through the proper legal channels to ensure that, regardless if your ex suddenly has a change of heart, the order is enforceable.
Petitioning the Court to Modify Your Alimony Payments
If you and your former spouse are not on amicable enough terms to work out an agreement on your own, you can petition the court for a modification. However, to achieve successful results, you must prove that your circumstances or the circumstances of your former spouse changed significantly.
Here are some examples:
- You involuntarily became unemployed or received a cut in pay
- You developed a medical condition or disability that prevents you from working
- Your former spouse gets remarried or lives with a new partner
- Your former spouse receives a substantial increase in income
- You have a new support obligation, such as a new child
- You are experiencing a financial emergency
The above list is not exhaustive, so even if the change you experienced is not listed above, a judge may still grant your request.