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 What Is Alimony?

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to another in the event of a legal separation or divorce. The purpose of alimony is to provide financial support to the spouse who may not be financially stable due to the divorce. Alimony can be temporary or permanent and can be paid in a lump sum or as monthly payments.

Different types of alimony can be awarded depending on the circumstances of the divorce. The two most common types of alimony are rehabilitative and reimbursement.

Rehabilitative alimony is awarded to a spouse who needs financial support to regain financial stability, such as in cases where one spouse gives up their career to raise a family or allows the other spouse to pursue career opportunities.

Reimbursement alimony is generally awarded to a receiving spouse who worked full-time to support the paying spouse’s education.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

When alimony is awarded, the paying spouse must make the court-ordered payments until one of the following happens:

  • The ordering judge has set a specific date to terminate payments.
  • The receiving spouse remarries.
  • Either spouse dies.
  • The judge determines that payments are no longer necessary after a reasonable amount of time.
  • The judge determines that the receiving spouse has not made a reasonable effort to become at least partially financially independent.
  • The paying spouse can no longer make alimony payments due to a significant life-changing circumstance.

Are There Other Types of Alimony?

In some cases, a spouse may also be eligible for nominal, transitional, or permanent alimony. Nominal alimony is a small amount of alimony paid to acknowledge the financial dependency of a spouse, even when no financial support is currently needed.

Transitional alimony is awarded for a short period of time to support a spouse’s transition from married life to a single life, such as paying for education or job training.

Permanent alimony is awarded when the receiving spouse is unlikely to become financially independent, such as in cases where the spouse is disabled or has a significant earning disparity.

How Do I Qualify for Alimony?

To qualify for alimony, the spouse must show a need for financial support, and the other spouse must have the ability to pay.

  • Factors that are generally considered when determining the amount and duration of alimony include the length of the marriage;
  • The standard of living during the marriage;
  • The age and health of each spouse;
  • The earning capacity and assets of each spouse.

Length of the Marriage

In a case where a couple has been married for 25 years, the court may be more likely to award a significant amount of alimony and for a longer duration. This is because the longer the marriage, the more interdependent the spouses may have become, both financially and emotionally.

For example, suppose one spouse has been a stay-at-home parent for the entire duration of the marriage. In that case, they may have limited employment opportunities, which the court would consider when determining alimony.

Standard of Living During the Marriage

Consider a couple that has enjoyed a lavish lifestyle during their marriage, with one spouse earning a high income while the other spouse contributed by managing the household and raising the children.

Upon divorce, the court might award alimony to the lower-earning spouse to help maintain a similar standard of living. For instance, the court might consider the cost of living in their area, expenses related to housing, and the lifestyle the couple had been accustomed to when determining alimony.

Age and Health of Each Spouse

In a situation where one spouse is significantly older or has health issues, the court may consider these factors when determining alimony. Suppose one spouse is 60 years old and has a chronic illness that prevents them from working. In that case, the court might award them alimony to help cover medical expenses and provide financial support, as they might have limited ability to become self-sufficient.

Earning Capacity and Assets of Each Spouse

Imagine a scenario where one spouse has a high-paying job and significant assets, while the other spouse has a much lower income and fewer assets. The court might consider these factors when determining the amount and duration of alimony.

For instance, if one spouse has a successful business, investments, and property, the court might require them to provide financial support to the other spouse. This is particularly true if the other spouse has limited earning potential due to their age, health, or employment history.

What if a Spouse Refuses to Pay Alimony?

Legal remedies are available if a spouse refuses to pay alimony as ordered by the court.

The receiving spouse can contact the appropriate Department of Revenue for enforcement assistance or hire an attorney to file a motion for contempt of court-ordered payments.

Legal remedies are available to the receiving spouse in order to enforce a court order for spousal support. These legal remedies include wages, real or personal property liens, garnishment of wages or property, or a further court order in which the paying spouse is required to pay the delinquent amount, in addition to a certain percent interest rate on the delinquent amount.

Examples of Alimony Collection

Alimony collection cases can be difficult and emotionally charged, and legal action may be necessary to enforce payment.

The following are a few examples of hypothetical cases and legal actions taken:

  • John and Jane divorced after 15 years of marriage. Jane was awarded rehabilitative alimony to help her get back on her feet and find a job. However, John refused to make the payments, claiming he couldn’t afford them. Jane hired a lawyer and went to court to enforce the order. The judge ordered John to pay the arrears and set up a payment plan for future payments. He would face wage garnishment and other legal consequences if he failed to comply.
  • Tom and Sarah divorced after a contentious court battle, and Sarah was awarded permanent alimony due to her inability to support herself. However, Tom became resentful of the payments and stopped making them after a few months. Sarah hired an attorney and filed a contempt motion, asking the court to hold Tom in violation of the order. The court agreed and ordered Tom to pay the arrears plus interest. He was also warned that failure to comply would result in jail time.
  • Lisa and Mike separated after 10 years of marriage and agreed to a lump sum payment for Lisa’s share of the assets and for spousal support. However, Mike failed to make the payment on time, causing Lisa financial hardship. She hired a lawyer and filed a motion for enforcement of the agreement. The court ordered Mike to pay the lump sum immediately and imposed a penalty for each day of delay.

These cases illustrate the various legal actions that can be taken to enforce alimony payments, including contempt motions, wage garnishment, property liens, and even imprisonment. Consult with a knowledgeable family lawyer to understand your rights and options in alimony collection cases.

Should I Hire a Lawyer?

If you are facing a situation in which you are not receiving your court-ordered spousal support, consult with a skilled and knowledgeable alimony lawyer.

An experienced family lawyer can advise you of your rights and options, as well as your state’s specific laws regarding alimony payments. Additionally, an attorney can file an enforcement action on your behalf to collect spousal support that you are owed and represent you in court as needed.

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