Alimony – What You Need to Know

Alimony Defined:

Alimony refers to payments that one spouse is required to pay to his or her former spouse by the court following a divorce. A judge determines the amount of alimony to be paid at regular intervals and the length of time the alimony must be paid. Alimony is also commonly referred to as spousal support. The two terms are used interchangeably.

Alimony’s Purpose:

The goal of alimony is for the lower-earning spouse to be able to maintain his or her quality of life following the divorce. Oftentimes, one spouse makes considerably less money than the other, and alimony provides a significant financial support for the lower-earning spouse. Also, in marriages, it is common for one spouse to sacrifice career advancement in order to take care of children. Alimony helps to compensate spouses who did this during a marriage.

Who Can Get Alimony?

Alimony can be awarded to either a man or a woman. Historically, it was much more common for women to be awarded alimony. However, it is becoming more normal for men to receive alimony.

Factors That Influence Alimony Payments:

The judge will consider all of these factors before making a decision about alimony payments:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The physical condition, age, and financial circumstances of the former spouses
  • The standard of living experienced by the couple during the marriage
  • The ability of the spouse who will be paying to support himself or herself and afford the payments
  • The amount of time the lower-earning spouse would need to become self-sufficient

Alimony Length:

Ultimately, the judge decides this. However, alimony usually terminates when the receiving spouse remarries. If the receiving spouse never remarries, then alimony can last for as long as the court deems it necessary. In some states, alimony only lasts for a certain percentage of the months that the spouses were married. For example, a spouse who was married to her partner for five years may only be entitled to alimony for fifty percent of the months they were together. This would equate to thirty months, or 2.5 years.

The paying spouse can also petition the courts to request permission to stop paying alimony if he or she believes there is a good reason to. For example, a paying spouse may petition the courts to stop paying alimony if the receiving spouse got a big promotion or a large inheritance. The judge will make the decision to approve or deny this request. If either spouse dies, alimony stops. Alimony also usually stops when the paying spouse reaches full retirement age.

Alimony Vs. Child Support:

Alimony is not the same thing as child support, although many people mistakenly think that it is. Alimony is support for the spouse and child support is support for the child or children. They are separate payments. In many cases, one spouse has to pay both alimony and child support.

Can Your Ex Refuse to Pay?

Your ex may not agree to pay alimony when you are negotiating a separation agreement. However, it is up to the judge to decide if he or she will pay or not. If your ex attempts to not pay alimony after he or she has been ordered to pay, then the court will use its powers to force your ex to pay alimony. Wage garnishment is a tool that is commonly used to force people to pay alimony.

Types of Alimony:

  • Rehabilitative Alimony – Alimony that is paid to a spouse who is expected to be able to support himself or herself after a specified amount of time
  • Transitional Alimony – Alimony that is paid during the transition that takes place after a divorce to help the lower-earning spouse transition into a new life. It lasts for a maximum of five years.
  • General Term Alimony – Alimony that is paid to an ex-spouse who is financially dependent on the former spouse. The judge decides how long this alimony will last based on factors listed above.
  • Reimbursement Alimony – Alimony that is paid by a spouse who received financial help from an ex-spouse in order to do something like obtain a degree or start a business. This type of alimony is generally only paid when the marriage lasted for less than five years.

Alimony and Taxes:

Under the Trump administration the rules for alimony and taxes have changed. According to the new rules, people who pay alimony will no longer be able to deduct the payments and people who receive alimony do not have to report the payments as income. So, essentially, under the new rules, you will save money in taxes if you receive alimony.

If Your Ex’s Income Increases:

If you are receiving alimony and if your ex’s income increased, then most likely, your alimony payments will not increase. You can petition the court for an increase, but it will most likely be denied. This is because your ex’s increase in income does not harm you financially and you will still be receiving the income that was deemed necessary to support your lifestyle. However, if you have an “escalator clause” in your divorce agreement, An escalator clause allows for alimony payment increases as the payer’s income increases.

How To Obtain Alimony:

If you want to receive alimony, you must ask for alimony as part of your divorce proceeding. Some spouses will agree to it right off the bat, and others won’t. If your spouse doesn’t, the judge will decide if you are entitled to it or not. If you and your spouse make a similar amount of money and split the parenting evenly if you had kids, then there is a good chance you won’t receive alimony. However, if you make considerably less or had to stall your career to do more of the parenting, then there is a good chance you will receive alimony.

Quick Summary:

If you make considerably less than your ex-spouse does, then you will need to receive alimony if you are going to maintain the same lifestyle that you maintained while you were with your ex. The amount of alimony that you receive can be very large or very small. It can also be permanent or temporary. These things depend heavily on which state you live in and your personal financial, physical, and family circumstances. Alimony can be extremely helpful for financial security after a marriage ends. However, it should not be relied upon for indefinite financial stability because oftentimes it is cut off after a certain amount of year has passed. So, if you are approved for alimony, you should still make sure that you make other arrangements to boost your income or to adjust your lifestyle after a divorce.

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