In the olden days, couples got divorced and the man paid alimony – it was a given. Flash forward a few decades. Now there are criteria the judge explores before awarding alimony – if alimony is even going to be awarded. And yet, many still think that spousal support (another name for alimony) is going to be automatic – and in the wife’s favor. Not true!
What is the purpose of alimony?
To help support the spouse who is financially disadvantaged in a divorce for a period of time to allow the spouse to attain self-sufficiency. Many spouses do not work, work only part time, or work in a job that does not pay enough to support them. While the parties are together, the situation is often optimal because it allows one parent to be available for the children, frees up a spouse to participate in support for the other party’s career, or just is in keeping with how the parties want to live.
However, when one household becomes two, the spouse earning less often isn’t self-supporting. Alimony isn’t intended to balance the income between households or to punish an errant spouse. it is to assist the financially disadvantaged spouse during a time of (legal term alert) economic transition. In other words, it’s financial assistance while the recipient gets more education, training, or time to find employment that will allow self-support.
What does the judge consider when deciding whether or not to award alimony?
Generally speaking, first the judge is going to look at whether one spouse has a need for financial assistance from the other. The ‘need’ has to be connected to the marriage. For instance, a spouse who doesn’t receive child support for children from a prior marriage may have a need for financial help, but that need has nothing to do with the marriage so it will not be taken into consideration. Need is demonstrated by showing that the seeker isn’t able to cover reasonable living expenses. If the judge finds there is a need, the second thing that must be determined is if the other spouse has the ability to pay.
How much is alimony and for how long is it paid?
Most states don’t have a set formula to answer either question. The judge will take into account factors such as the length of the marriage, the health of the parties, the earning capacity of the parties, the ages of the parties, the cost to educate/train the recipient, the lifestyle the parties had during marriage and other relevant factors.
It’s up to the party asking for alimony to prove there is a need and to demonstrate to the judge what it is and for how long assistance would be ‘necessary’ to get them to a point of self-sufficiency. The judge has a lot of discretion in determining how much will be paid and for how long. Each party will need to rely on the expertise of their attorney regarding how to present information to the judge as well as understanding any biases a given judge may have for or against alimony. (Biases? From a judge? Remember: judges are human beings with their own life experiences that sometimes play a part in their decision-making philosophy.)
Alimony ends at a time set by the judge, remarriage of the receiving party, or upon the death of either party unless the parties have made an agreement to the contrary.
Assumptions about alimony
Don’t make them. Talk to an attorney who is experienced in Family Law in the state you live in and ask how it works there. Based on their experience with the law, their familiarity with the assigned judge, and your particular financial facts, they can often provide you a reasonable expectation with regard to whether or not paying or receiving alimony is likely in your case.