Recently, the Governor of Alabama amended the rules regarding alimony. In the past, the court had the ultimate discretion to grant parties temporary, periodic, or permanent support in divorce cases. However, under the new regulations, the court can still grant permanent or forever support, but only if the case meets strict guidelines.

Interim support, or “alimony pendente lite,” is a temporary award that provides monetary assistance during the pendency of the divorce process. To be eligible for temporary support from a spouse, the petitioning party must prove to the court that there is a need for support, that the other party can provide it, and that the marriage is valid. Since the request for interim alimony can take time, the court may make the temporary award retroactive to the date of the divorce filing. Temporary support terminates when the court issues a final order.

Periodic alimony is when one spouse gives a set amount of support to the other on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis for a specific amount of time. The most common type of periodic alimony is “rehabilitative support.” This is a payment to the lesser earning spouse only until that spouse can receive proper employment training, education, or skills to start in the workforce and become self-supporting. Rehabilitative support mostly applies in cases where one party decided to halt their career to raise a family.

Unlike before, periodic alimony now is only to be granted in limited situations. For example, the new law mandates that rehabilitative maintenance should be limited to only five years. If a person can provide good cause for deviating from this rule, then a court may award support up to the same length of time as the marriage. Meaning, a person who was married for 10 years would be limited to no more than 10 years of alimony, even if he or she could prove that periodic alimony is needed.

This implies that in the majority of the cases, a person will be limited to receiving only five years of support after the marriage unless they can show a significant need to deviate from the rule. Even in those scenarios, the length of the marriage creates a maximum cap on the duration of periodic alimony.

However, even though periodic alimony cannot be granted for longer than the length of the marriage, the new rule still carves out an exception for those married longer than 20 years. In those cases, a person may still receive ongoing and permanent alimony. Nevertheless, the new guidelines create a strong barrier to prevent continuing and endless support orders.

This is considered to be one of the most significant modifications to support laws in Alabama regarding rehabilitative alimony, which is limited to a maximum of 5 years for the recipient as mentioned earlier. For judges, the exception to the new rule is if the court discovers that rehabilitation is not possible or there are other reasons for a deviation from the 5-year standard. If the court desires to deviate, then a judge may grant support up to the same length of the divorcing couple’s marriage.

Permanent alimony used to be commonly applied, but more and more courts are deciding to phase it out, including Alabama. Although rare, permanent alimony is still a viable option for some couples, particularly in cases where one spouse has a permanent disability or is too elderly to begin a career or become self-supporting.

Although the new rules in Alabama limit alimony to 5 years, one exception is when a couple has been married for more than 20 years. In those cases, if a party can convince the court of a need for support, the court can grant permanent alimony as stated above.

How Can I Modify or Terminate an Alimony Order?

The court can modify or terminate existing support orders if the filing party can prove that, since the last order, there has been a material change in situations of one or both parties. Some of the factors a court will consider in amending an order include:

  • A significant change in health, level of education, or the age of either party;
  • A shift in the employment status of the receiving spouse;
  • A change in the financial circumstances of either party;
  • Any event that significantly affects the paying spouse’s ability to pay and;
  • The duration of time between the initial award and the request for modification.

Additionally, the law allows the court to terminate existing orders for support if any of the following circumstances exist:

  • The recipient spouse remarries;
  • Either party passes away, or;
  • The recipient spouse cohabitates with and is in a marriage-like relationship.

There may be more additions to this section now and in the future since the law is constantly evolving. Therefore, it is best practice to research the current information on the local website or seek out a professional for legal advice.

Who is Eligible for Alimony in Alabama?

For a judge in a divorce proceeding to appropriately determine whether an award of alimony is justifiable, the court examines all the relevant factors, which include:

  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The standard of living that both parties were accustomed to during the marriage;
  • The age and health of the parties;
  • The future employment expectations of both parties;
  • The extent to which one party reduced their income or career opportunities for the benefit of the party or the family;
  • The contribution of one party to the education or the earning ability of the other party;
  • Excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment, or fraudulent arrangement of property;
  • The respective issues and faults of the parties for the breakdown of the marriage;
  • The actual damages and judgments from conduct that results in criminal conviction of either spouse in which the other spouse or child of the marriage was a victim; and
  • Any other factor that the court determines equitable under the circumstances of the case.

What is the Duration of Alimony?

Usually, periodic alimony continues until the person receiving the alimony remarries, co-habitants with someone, or becomes self-supporting. Self-supporting means a situation where the financial status of the person receiving the alimony becomes higher than that of the person paying the alimony. Alimony will also terminate upon the death of either the person receiving the alimony or the person paying alimony.

How Is Alimony Or Spousal Support Enforced In Alabama?

The court does not monitor the compliance of its alimony order, but it will intervene if required to do so by the request of one of the parties involved. Failure to comply with an alimony order can lead to a wide range of civil or criminal penalties ranging from garnished wages to fines, a bench warrant for the person’s arrest, and even jail time.

Can You Change An Alimony Order After A Divorce?

In most cases, the court must first find that material circumstances have been altered enough to warrant such a modification to the alimony order. Many factors are calculated into this determination, and if you are interested in pursuing a modification to alimony or spousal support order, you can learn more about the process by researching some local laws.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you need further assistance in understanding and knowing how to apply for alimony in Alabama, it is suggested that you reach out to a local family law attorney to assist you more in the process.