Getting a divorce is hard to do, but it becomes more difficult when one side cannot support themselves following the separation. In these situations, alimony becomes another potential issue in a divorce proceeding. Spouses ordered to pay alimony are often, and understandably, resentful of the court-ordered obligation; after all, a significant portion of their earnings are going to their ex-spouse. Below, we examine alimony and the general types most courts acknowledge.
How Does Alimony Work?
Alimony, referred to as spousal support in some states, is a legal obligation on a person to provide financial support to their spouse during the divorce proceeding and afterwards. Alimony payments are usually arranged when a judge finds that the divorce caused unfair economic consequences for one ex-spouse.
During marriage, spouses usually divide responsibilities within the home; i.e., one spouse works more to provide for the family while the other tends to the day-to-day needs of the home. Therefore, it would be unreasonable for a high-income earning spouse to exit a marriage and leave the other low-income earning spouse financially responsible for the entire family or themselves.
The length a marriage must be before alimony will be awarded varies from state to state. As an example, Tennessee has a minimum length of marriage before a spouse is eligible to receive alimony and will only award it in marriages lasting longer than ten (10) years.
Five (5) Types of Alimony That Most State Courts Recognize
1. Temporary Alimony (alimony pendente lite) is an order that comes during the divorce proceeding and ends once the divorce terms are agreed upon or ordered by the Court. The goal of temporary alimony is to maintain the pre-divorce standard of living that both parties were accustomed to, prior to the separation. It can also include payment for divorce costs, daily expenses, and continues until the court determines another form of alimony.
2. Permanent Alimony (alimony in futuro/periodic alimony) is awarded after the conclusion of a divorce proceeding and is paid on a regular basis. Permanent alimony is ordered when there is a marriage of long duration, advanced age of spouses, or when the recipient spouse is disabled, has a chronic illness or other health issues. Permanent alimony does not necessarily mean that the payment will last for the rest of one’s life, but until the occurrence of a terminating factor such as: cohabitation; remarriage; or death of the payee spouse.
3. Rehabilitative Alimony (transitional alimony) is financial support provided for a short period to allow the receiving spouse enough time to get adjusted and establish him or herself financially. In this case, the term rehabilitate allows the divorced spouse time to become completely self-serving. This type of alimony will likely be reviewed at intervals to check on the progress of the recipient. There is no set time for rehabilitative alimony to end and is determined based on the individual situation.
4. Reimbursement Alimony is alimony that reimburses an ex-spouse for some expense or expenses that he or she may have paid out on behalf of the ex-spouse. A situation where reimbursement alimony arises is where one spouse supports the other spouse while they attend college or a work-related program that enhanced their future earning capacity. Therefore, the purpose of reimbursement alimony is to compensate an ex-spouse for economic sacrifices that they made during the marriage.
5. Lump-sum Alimony (alimony in gross/alimony in solido) allows an ex-spouse to pay the total amount of alimony in one bulk amount as long as the total sum is equal to the total amount of future monthly payments. If one ex-spouse does not want any property or item of value from the marriage, the judge may order this one-time lump-sum alimony payment in lieu of the property.
How is Alimony Calculated and How Long Do Payments Last?
What makes alimony calculations difficult to predict is that each state court has its own method of determining the amounts. The amount of alimony to be paid will generally depend on: the term of the marriage; the age of the ex-spouses; the income of the ex-spouses; future financials of each party; and gender of the party seeking alimony. Generally, the two biggest factors the courts will consider are the needs of the financially disadvantaged spouse and the payor spouse’s ability to pay.
While the duration for alimony payments usually correlates with the duration of the spouse’s marriage, in short and medium-length marriages, courts generally award alimony for a duration of one-half to one-third length of the marriage. Typically, a spouse will have to pay alimony until one spouse dies or gets remarried, the court makes a further ruling, or a specific end date arrives. However, do not assume this is always true and stop paying after one of these events occur, just in case the judge decides differently. Find the termination date on your alimony order and remember it.
Certain alimony court orders may be modified based upon a material change in circumstances.
What to Do If This Issue Affects You
Being ordered to make alimony payments does not mean you are at fault or in the wrong in any way. In most cases, it simply means that you make more money than your spouse. That said, if you are the financially disadvantaged spouse, having an experienced family law attorney will help you navigate the complex alimony laws and factors to get you future financial peace of mind. For more than 100 years, people have been ordered to pay alimony, and while alimony is ordered less frequently today, it is still pursued frequently.
At Breeding Henry and Baysan, we have experience in handling alimony cases. Our attorneys strive to keep the client’s best interest in mind and work adamantly to gain the best possible outcome given the circumstances.