Spousal support, often known as alimony, is a legally mandated payment made from one former spouse to the other. It may be issued in divorce or separation cases, typically when one party is more financially stable than the other.
This financial assistance aims to ensure that the less economically stable spouse can maintain a reasonable standard of living and achieve financial independence.
When Is Spousal Support Granted?
One common scenario in which spousal support may be granted is when one party has made non-financial contributions to the relationship, such as homemaking, facilitating career or educational advancements for their partner, or contributing property during the relationship.
For example, suppose one spouse has sacrificed their career to raise the couple’s children. In that case, the court may order the higher-earning spouse to pay spousal support to compensate for the lower-earning spouse’s contributions to the family.
Reimbursement spousal support might also be awarded to a spouse who worked full time, allowing the other spouse to complete their education.
Consider a situation where one spouse worked multiple jobs to support the family while the other pursued a medical degree. Once the physician-spouse starts earning a substantial income, the court may order them to pay spousal support to the other spouse to acknowledge their financial sacrifices during the marriage.
What Determines the Amount of Spousal Support?
The amount of spousal support is determined by the paying spouse’s ability to provide financial assistance and the receiving spouse’s needs. The goal is to help the receiving spouse maintain their pre-divorce lifestyle or give them enough time to become financially stable and independent.
Are Spousal Arrangements Permanent or Temporary?
Spousal support arrangements can be permanent or temporary.
Permanent spousal support continues until a life-changing event occurs, such as the death or remarriage of the receiving spouse. Temporary spousal support is typically paid when the couple separates but has not yet finalized their divorce.
What Is Spousal Support Fraud?
Spousal support fraud occurs when a person intentionally presents false information related to spousal support payments.
Spousal support fraud could manifest in various ways. The party set to receive spousal support payments may commit fraud to obtain a higher amount of money each month, or the paying party may commit fraud to pay less each month.
Common examples of spousal support fraud include the following:
- Falsifying income levels: A spouse may underreport their income to reduce their spousal support obligation or overreport their income to receive a higher payment.
- Providing fraudulent tax information: A spouse may submit falsified tax returns to support their false claims about income or assets.
- Hiding assets during a divorce trial: A spouse may conceal assets, such as bank accounts or property, to avoid having those assets considered in spousal support calculations.
- Intentionally placing an incorrect value on property or assets: A spouse may undervalue or overvalue assets to influence the spousal support amount.
- Lying or making misrepresentations to the court: A spouse may provide false information about their financial situation to manipulate spousal support payments.
- Fabricating debts or financial obligations: A spouse may falsely claim debts or financial obligations to reduce their spousal support payment or to argue for a higher payment from the other spouse.
- Manipulating employment status: A spouse might intentionally become underemployed, quit their job, or refuse promotions to lower their income and reduce spousal support payments or receive more support.
- Failing to disclose changes in financial circumstances: A spouse may not report increases in income, new employment, or receipt of a significant inheritance, which could affect the spousal support amount.
- Misrepresenting educational or professional qualifications: A spouse may lie about their education or job qualifications to diminish their earning potential and receive higher spousal support payments or pay less support.
- Concealing the existence of a new romantic partner: A spouse may hide a new relationship, particularly if they are cohabitating or financially supported by their new partner, to maintain spousal support payments.
- Misrepresenting medical or health conditions: A spouse may also falsely claim or exaggerate a medical condition or disability to argue for more spousal support or to reduce their obligation to pay support.
How Is Spousal Support Fraud Proven?
Various sources can be used to prove spousal support fraud, including prior support statements, tax returns, income and bank statements, pay stubs from work, shopping or travel receipts, witness statements, and admissions from either party.
What Are the Penalties for Spousal Support Fraud?
Legal penalties for spousal support fraud can include payment of damages, criminal fines, or jail time.
Other Information About Spousal Support
To file for spousal support, you must submit a petition for alimony to the court. Most states include this petition as part of the original petition for divorce, and your spouse will need to be served the notice for spousal support.
If your spouse does not consent to the spousal support requested, the court will determine whether you should be granted your request by considering factors such as:
- Whether the couple was legally married;
- The length of the marriage;
- Each spouse’s current and future earning potential;
- Each spouse’s financial contribution to the marriage;
- Child custody considerations;
- The age and health of each party.
Spousal support amounts are calculated differently in each state. This means that the method for determining spousal support depends on your state’s laws regarding divorce and spousal support.
Some states consider fault when determining whether to grant a divorce, but it isn’t always a factor when the court is determining spousal support awards.
Can Spousal Support Orders Be Modified?
Spousal support orders can be modified, but you should continue to make your court-scheduled payments until the court has decided whether to modify the order.
Modification begins by petitioning the court and showing that you are entitled to the modification based on a substantial change in circumstances since the order was first issued.
Common examples of a substantial change in circumstances include:
- The paying spouse has been laid off from their job and no longer has income with which to make payments;
- The paying spouse is now retired;
- The receiving spouse is now earning a significant increase in income;
- The receiving spouse remarries;
- The paying spouse has become disabled.
Can a Spousal Support Order Be Terminated?
A spousal support order may be terminated naturally, such as when the spouse in a permanent spousal support arrangement dies, remarries, or cohabitates with a new partner. In other arrangements, the court will terminate the order once it has been determined that the spouse no longer requires financial support to be stable.
Do I Need Legal Representation in Spousal Support Fraud Cases?
Proving spousal support fraud can be a challenging task, as it is often difficult to detect in the first place. If you believe you have a case for spousal support fraud, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable alimony lawyer.
An experienced family lawyer can help you determine whether spousal support fraud has occurred and file a legal claim on your behalf. They can also represent you in court as needed, guide you through the complexities of the legal system, and advise you on the best course of action to take in your case.