Spousal Support (formerly Alimony)

In some marriages, one spouse ends up being the primary breadwinner while the other spouse takes care of domestic matters. This is considered to be a more traditional distribution of duties in a marriage. When these marriages end in divorce, however, the reliant spouse may suddenly find him or herself in a very tight monetary situation. Alimony laws were established to ease this transition for the financially dependent spouse, who may not be able to return to the working world immediately.


Spousal Support in Divorce

Often times in a marriage one spouse earns a higher income than the other. Whether this is due to a spouse working in the home, outside of the home part time, or simply because one spouse has a higher education, spousal support is intended to allow the lower income earning spouse the ability to maintain the marital standard of living.

Spousal support, sometimes referred to as alimony, is a payment from one spouse to the other and will vary in each case. The court considers many factors when determining spousal support terms.

Temporary Spousal Support

When a couple initiates divorce proceedings temporary support might be ordered even before the divorce is finalized. This allows the lower income earning spouse to maintain the marital standard of living while the divorce is processed.

Long Term Spousal Support

Typically, after a short term marriage (less than 10 years) spousal support is awarded for one half the length of the marriage.  In this case, support is intended to allow the supported spouse an opportunity to become self supporting.

Family court recognizes marriages lasting longer than 10 years as “long term.”  After a long term marriage it is possible that spousal support could be awarded on a long term basis (conceivably until the death of one of the parties).  The term “permanent” however, is used loosely in this instance.  Long term spousal support has the possibility of terminating upon the death, or remarriage of the supported spouse as well as the cohabitation of the supported party with another person.

Lump Payment

Occasionally, spouses might negotiate a lump payment in lieu of monthly support.       

Factors Considered In A Permanent Spousal Support Award

Spousal support is most commonly awarded in cases where there is a disparity in income between spouses. When one spouse relies on the other financially it can be a very difficult transition to becoming self supporting. Spousal support is intended to ease this transition.

Spousal support can be a complicated issue and negations often become contentious.  One spouse may believe that the other is capable of earning enough to support themselves, while the other may feel entitled to support. For instance, one spouse put their career on hold to manage the family and household while the other attended school or advanced their career for the betterment of the family.

Who gets Spousal Support?

When the parties cannot reach an agreement regarding spousal support the court may decide if a party should be supported, the amount of support and how long the support will continue.  There are several factors the court considers when awarding spousal support. The most common are the length of the marriage and the incomes of the spouses at the time of dissolution.

Income of the spouses

Each party’s income is a factor in spousal support awards.  The court will look for a  disparity in income before awarding support to one party.  Proof of each party’s income is required when spousal support is at issue.  If a party refuses to disclose their income, measures can be taken to ensure the court gets an accurate depiction of their income.  Also, if one party is underemployed or refuses to take employment the court may order that party to submit oe a vocational evaluation to assist the court in determining what income they are capable of earning in order to impute a wage to them based upon their earning potential.

Other factors the court considers when determining spousal support are:

  • The extent to which each party’s earning capacity is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage.
  • The extent to which the supported spouse contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting spouse.
  • The supporting spouse’s ability to pay, taking into account his or hear earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
  • The needs of each party based on the standard of living established ruing the marriage.
  • The obligations and assets of each party, including separate property.
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The supported spouse’s ability to be employed without interfering with the interests of any dependent children who are in his or her custody.
  • The parties’ age and health
  • Documented evidence of any domestic violence, including consideration of emotional distress from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence by the supported party against the supporting party.
  • The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party
  • The balance of the hardships to each party.
  • The goal that the supported spouse shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of “long duration.”
  • The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse and the reduction or elimination of any award to an abusive spouse.

 Spousal Support and Taxes

When it comes to taxes, spousal support received is considered income and is taxable. The spouse that pays spousal support receives a tax deduction for the amount paid so long as taxes are filed separately.  This can be an advantage to the paying spouse when they earn virtually all of the income in a marriage. Effectively the spouse receiving support moves up through the tax table, while the paying spouse is able to reduce their taxable income.

Modifying Spousal Support

If certain criteria are met, it may be possible to modify spousal support payments at a later time.  The court will look for a change in circumstance that may include one or more of the following:

  • Change of income due to loss of employment
  • Illness or disability of the receiving party

Modifying spousal support payments can be a difficult process.  An attorney will be able to assist you in making a strong argument for your case.

Terminating Spousal Support Payments

It is possible for spousal support to terminate at a predetermined date.  Typically, support terminates on an agreed upon date that is recorded in the court file.  However, in some instances specific circumstances could lead to the termination of support before the order expires.

Non-payment of Spousal Support Orders

Not paying, or ignoring an order to pay spousal support can result in serious consequences. If it is discovered that the paying spouse has the ability to pay support but is not, the court can find them in contempt of court.  The consequences for being in contempt of court range from fines to jail time.

Falling behind on spousal support payments could ultimately increase the total amount the paying spouse owes.  Interest can accrue at 10% per year on the balance due.

Non-payment of spousal support orders can be a difficult situation to navigate. The attorneys at Fischer & VanThiel have extensive experience in this area and can assist you with the court process.

© Law Offices of Bobette Fleishman  | 2017