You might qualify for alimony. Let’s find out. Spousal support—also called “alimony” or “maintenance”—isn’t automatic and isn’t ordered in every divorce. On the other hand, it isn’t exactly rare either. If you’re planning to request alimony, or you think that your spouse might ask for it, you’ll want to understand what alimony is and how judges decide to award it before you divorce.
Many states define “alimony” as a court-ordered payment made by one ex-spouse to the other. Courts can also award temporary spousal support while a divorce is pending. Judges award alimony in to try to equalize the financial resources of a divorcing couple. When deciding whether to award alimony, a judge will consider whether one spouse has a demonstrated financial need and if the other spouse has the ability to pay. Judges usually award alimony in cases where the spouses have unequal earning power and have been married a long time. For example, a judge isn’t likely to award alimony if the couple has been married for only a year. In fact, some state laws allow alimony awards only when the couple has been married for a certain amount of time.
How Does Alimony Work?
Although judges have to follow state law in deciding whether alimony is appropriate, they usually have a lot of discretion in deciding when and how someone has to pay it. An alimony award can be temporary—to support a spouse only while the divorce is pending—or a permanent award that’s part of a divorce decree.
Alimony payments can be in the form of:
• a lump-sum payment
• a property transfer, or
• periodic (monthly) payments.
In general, lump-sum alimony awards and alimony in the form of a property transfer are non-modifiable, meaning they can’t be changed later and can’t be terminated or undone. Periodic alimony payments may be changed when there’s a significant change in one or both of the spouses’ circumstances.
Periodic alimony awards are the most common and require one spouse to pay a certain amount to the other (the “supported” or “dependent” spouse) each month. A periodic or monthly alimony award will end on a date set by the judge, or when one of the following events occurs:
• the supported spouse remarries
• the supported spouse moves in with another person
• either spouse dies, or
• a significant event (like a paying spouse’s retirement or a supported spouse’s new high-paying job) happens and a judge determines that alimony is no longer necessary.
As with most issues in your divorce, you and your spouse can negotiate and reach an agreement about the amount of alimony and length of time it’ll be paid.
How Courts Decide Alimony
Every state has its own guidelines on what judges should consider when deciding whether to award alimony. Most states require judges to evaluate:
• how property is being divided in the divorce
• the standard of living during the marriage
• the supported spouse’s ability to maintain a similar lifestyle without support
• each spouse’s income, assets, and debts
• the length of the marriage
• each spouse’s age and health
• contributions that either spouse made to the other’s training, education, or career advancement, and
• any other factors the judge thinks are relevant.
If you’re the spouse asking for support, the court will look closely at your current income or ability to earn if you aren’t currently working. When the supported spouse has been out of the workforce or has been underemployed (has an opportunity to work full or part-time but chooses not to) for a long time, the judge is more likely to award support for at least as long as it will take the supported spouse to become independent. For example, if one spouse is trained as a doctor but took several years off to care for children and support the other spouse’s career, a judge will examine the medically trained spouse’s future earning potential. Maybe that spouse needs initial support to reenter the workforce but not a long-term alimony award. Both spouses might have to make some life and work changes after divorce. For example, a judge might require a spouse who has a part-time job that doesn’t pay well to try to find full-time employment in a higher-paying field. Sometimes, a judge will order (or the paying spouse might request) that an expert called a “vocational evaluator” make a report to the judge on the job prospects for a spouse who hasn’t been fully employed for a while. The evaluator will administer vocational tests and then compare the spouse’s qualifications with potential employers or open job positions in the area to estimate how much income the spouse could earn.
Not every former spouse receives alimony, which is also called spousal support or maintenance. Alimony will be awarded only when a former spouse is unable to meet their needs without financial assistance from a spouse who can afford to pay it. Spousal support may be temporary, such as when a former spouse needs time to get back into the job market, brush up on skills, complete an educational program, or raise the children; or permanent, such as when a spouse may never become self-supporting due to age or disability.
Your answers to the questions below can help you and your lawyer determine whether you’re a candidate for alimony (and if so, how much), or, conversely, whether your soon-to-be-ex spouse is, such that you will be liable for spousal support payments.
Length of Marriage and Alimony
If you are not sure whether alimony will come into play during your divorce, know that longer marriages usually involve this kind of spousal support, though some shorter marriages also warrant alimony. Your divorce lawyer should be able to let you know how likely it is that alimony will be involved in your case. Once it is decided that you will pay or receive spousal support, you may wonder how long it will continue. This varies from one case to another since it depends on the circumstances. Alimony is usually only paid until the recipient remarries or is cohabiting with a new partner. However, if the recipient never remarries, alimony usually has to be paid for the lifetime of the paying spouse.
Amount of Alimony
The amount of alimony depends on many factors. In most cases, the income of both spouses will be taken into consideration. If one spouse is making a lot more money than the other, he or she will likely have to pay alimony so that the two incomes are nearly equal. The bills of each person will usually also be considered, in addition to other factors of the case. If you are unsure if you will receive or need to pay alimony, realize that some couples are more likely to have to include spousal support than others. For example, if you have children, which required one spouse to stay home and care for them instead of going to school or working, the other spouse will likely need to pay both alimony and child support. Similarly, if one spouse cannot work much or at all due to a physical or mental health problem, the other spouse will probably have to pay alimony.
In general, alimony is usually determined after figuring out the earning capacity of each spouse. If one person is likely to make much more money than the other, alimony will probably be considered. This is especially the case if the marriage kept one spouse from making more money, perhaps due to frequent moves for the other spouse’s job, or other circumstances that caused a hardship. Whether you are worried about having to pay alimony, or hope to get it from your former spouse, you will likely need the help of a lawyer to get the results you desire. Otherwise, you might end up with less money than you can comfortably live on.
Types of Alimony
As most people know, alimony is a type of obligatory payment made following a divorce, based on the idea that married couples have a duty to support one another a duty which may not end with marriage. Alimony payments are made because a couple’s obligation to one another has been deemed to extend after the marriage itself ends.
Support payments are traditionally assessed by need; that is, which spouse has a lower earning potential and therefore is entitled to spousal support. However, what many people do not know is that there are actually several different types of alimony, which vary in a number of key areas. The four major types of arrangements are temporary, rehabilitative, permanent, and reimbursement. Many spousal support agreements combine multiple types of alimony when considering the sum total to be paid.
Permanent alimony is perhaps the one most engrained in the public consciousness. This form of spousal support is usually paid to the spouse who is earning less money, and is paid until the death of the paying spouse, the death of the paid spouse, or the remarriage of the paid spouse. Usually, one spouse has to be earning a reasonable amount less than the other in order to warrant permanent alimony.
Temporary alimony is not a short-term form of permanent alimony, but is rather paid while the divorce is pending and the couple is legally separated. This form of support is also called pendente lite, or “pending the suit.” Like in a permanent arrangement, temporary alimony is meant so that a spouse may maintain is or her lifestyle.
Unlike permanent alimony, rehabilitative alimony is issued for a relatively short period. It is meant to provide a spouse with the money he or she needs to acquire job training, experience, or education in order to become more self-sufficient. It is meant to help raise a former spouse’s income potential and thus decrease his or her need for spousal support. It is commonly given to mothers of small children so that they can stay home with the children until they reach school age.
Reimbursement alimony is paid to reimburse a former spouse for an expense. For example, if you worked to help put your former spouse through college, you may be entitled to reimbursement alimony to repay you. This type of spousal support may be paid over time, or in a lump sum.
Reasons to Hire an Experienced Family Law Attorney
There are few areas of law were the day-to-day work of a lawyer has more impact than in a divorce case. Even if you are considering divorce mediation, working with a family law attorney can make a difference in your future.
If you are considering filing for divorce, it may feel overwhelming. Even if you understand the divorce process, there are many decisions to make. How do you agree on a workable child custody and visitation plan? How do you file court paperwork? It can take an emotional toll on you and your entire family.
Experience Assessing Divorce Options
To grant a divorce, several issues must be settled:
• Division of property
• Spousal support
• Child custody and child support if there are children in the household
Experienced family law attorneys can give clients a good idea at the outset of their case on the best course of action. They have seen issues resolved in negotiation, mediation, and court. They will have a good idea of how best to ensure your goals are achieved.
As an outsider to your divorce, your attorney can be objective about your case. When emotions are running high, a client may be tempted to go for a quick resolution. They just want to get it over with. Your divorce lawyer knows you will live with this outcome for years to come. They want to ensure you make the best decision for the long term. For example, your attorney may counsel you to wait for a more fair and equitable division rather than accept a quick settlement agreement on property division.
Paperwork and Red Tape
As with any case that goes to court, a divorce case involves a lot of paperwork, process, and deadlines. An experienced attorney can work through the maze of paperwork so that you can get on with your life.
Experts and Consultants
When a divorcing couple has wealth, a family business, or extensive property, a family law attorney may bring in experts. This team of experts and consultants could include business valuators, forensic accountants, and QDRO experts. Accessing experts may add to the cost of a divorce, but they tend to work quickly. The information they provide can support arguments on the financial aspects of a divorce trial. They can also ensure a fair and equitable settlement agreement.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
An experienced family law attorney may advise you to try an alternative dispute resolution process. Using mediation or collaborative family law often saves time and money. It can also protect the positive working relationship between the couple. That may be important for parents who will be co-parenting in the future.
Experience Working with Other Lawyers
An experienced family law attorney can deal effectively with opposing counsel. From the early exchange of information (the “discovery” process), through settlement negotiations, to family court, lawyers speak the same language. Trust your attorney to be able to work effectively to resolve differences.
Favorable Settlement Agreements
Family law attorneys work hard to reach the best divorce settlement agreements for their clients as early in the divorce process as possible.
Family Court Experience
If a trial becomes necessary, an experienced family law lawyer can zealously represent you in court. They may be familiar with all of the family court judges who work in their area and how those judges have ruled on similar issues in the past. This can be useful when advising clients on how the court will view their case.
Hire an Experienced Family Law Attorney for Your Divorce Today
You don’t have to go through the process of divorce alone. Hiring an experienced divorce attorney can provide peace of mind. You will receive sound legal advice on each step of the divorce process. Expert guidance can help you achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Start the process today by contacting an experienced divorce attorney near you.
Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!
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