Alimony or Spousal Support

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 What Is Spousal Support or Alimony?

Spousal support, also known as alimony, represents financial payments made by one spouse to the other after a divorce has been finalized.

Courts often award alimony in cases where there is a significant difference in earning power between the two spouses, especially in long-term marriages. A judge evaluates both the requesting spouse’s financial need and the other spouse’s ability to provide support. The primary goal of alimony is to balance the financial resources of the divorcing couple to ensure fairness.

Spousal support is not an automatic entitlement and is not awarded in every divorce case. In some instances, a judge may grant temporary spousal support while the divorce is still pending.

It is important to distinguish alimony from child support, which pertains to financial payments made specifically for children under the age of 18 in the marriage. Child support covers essential daily needs like healthcare, education, and housing.

How Do I Request Spousal Support?

Requesting spousal support involves a process that may vary among different states. In general, you should initiate a petition by completing the appropriate legal paperwork and filing it with your local family court. A family law court representative in your county may be able to assist you with the required paperwork.

You and your spouse can reach an agreement regarding spousal support independently; however, if an agreement cannot be reached, the judge will decide based on your eligibility and other relevant factors.

There are three primary types of alimony support, and depending on your state’s specific provisions, you can request one that best aligns with your unique situation:

  1. Temporary Support While Divorce is Pending: If the non-earning spouse requires immediate financial support following the separation, the court may award temporary support while the divorce proceedings continue.
  2. Short-Term and Rehabilitative Support: In shorter marriages, judges may order short-term support, which lasts for a predetermined period, as outlined in the court order. Rehabilitative support is a specific type of short-term support aimed at helping a dependent spouse re-enter the workforce through training or education. This support typically ends when the recipient spouse secures employment, with the understanding that they have actively pursued the necessary training and job search.
  3. Long-Term or Permanent Support: In cases of long-term marriages (often more than ten years), a judge may grant permanent support if it is determined that the dependent spouse is unlikely to re-enter the workforce and will require ongoing financial assistance. Some states, however, do not permit permanent support.

How Does the Court Determine Whether to Grant Spousal Support?

When deciding whether to grant spousal support, the judge will carefully examine all relevant factors in your specific situation.

These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • The ability to support oneself;
  • The necessary time to acquire employment or complete training to become employable;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The circumstances leading to the separation;
  • The age of each party;
  • The physical and mental condition of each party;
  • The ability of the spouse paying alimony to support themselves while making payments;
  • Other financial responsibilities and resources of each party, such as previous child support awards, financial obligations of each party, rights to receive retirement benefits, and the taxability or non-taxability of income.

Alimony payments can be made in a lump sum or on a temporary or permanent basis. The court will typically consider the circumstances of each spouse when deciding the amount and duration of support required.

How Do I Modify or Terminate a Spousal Support Order?

Common reasons for terminating spousal support include either spouse’s death or the receiving spouse’s remarriage. Some states also allow for the reduction, suspension, or termination of alimony if the recipient spouse cohabitates with another person in a romantic relationship.

The payor must provide proof to the court to cease support permanently based on one of the automatic termination conditions defined by family law. Modifying a spousal support order necessitates demonstrating a change in circumstances. Each case is assessed individually.

What Should I Do if I Have Been Ordered to Pay Spousal Support?

If you have been ordered to pay spousal support, begin by reviewing your alimony agreement and court order to familiarize yourself with the details. Most marital settlement agreements and divorce judgments contain provisions outlining the terms of alimony payments, including the amount due each month and the payment schedule.

Making payments as outlined in the agreement is crucial to avoid potential legal liability. If you are unable to make a payment and need to modify the alimony order, you must demonstrate a change in circumstances to obtain a new order. It is recommended that you consult a family law attorney for advice on any issues that may arise concerning the alimony order.

How Much Spousal Support Could I Get?

There is no fixed amount for alimony support, as it depends on each spouse’s income and their ability to reasonably support both the alimony payment and any child support obligations.

Generally, family courts consider:

  • The monthly income of each spouse;
  • Reasonable day-to-day expenses;
  • Whether an alimony award would maintain the standard of living established during the marriage.

Suppose there is insufficient income to reestablish a similar standard of living for both parties. In that case, judges typically seek a solution that ensures the financial burdens are shared equally between the divorcing spouses.

What Happens If Spousal Support Isn’t Paid?

If a spouse fails to comply with a court-ordered spousal support arrangement, the recipient spouse can request enforcement through contempt of court proceedings. The recipient spouse may present evidence, such as bank statements, demonstrating that payments have not been made or have only been made partially or late. In some states, judges can order jail time if the non-compliant spouse is found in contempt of court.

Some spousal support awards include an income withholding order, allowing the employer of the paying spouse to withhold the ordered amount of support directly from their paycheck. The employer then sends this amount to the recipient spouse.

This method is often effective in ensuring timely payment of support. Alternatively, the recipient spouse can initiate a lawsuit against the non-paying spouse, though mediation may be a viable option for resolving the issue before resorting to litigation.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help With Spousal Support Issues?

If you have been ordered to pay or receive alimony, you may encounter issues regarding the payment amount and schedule. Since alimony laws vary by state, it is essential to understand your state’s specific regulations.

Seeking the guidance of an experienced local alimony attorney is recommended to navigate the process of determining a fair and equitable alimony support arrangement. These legal professionals can help you address any concerns or disputes that may arise and ensure that your interests are adequately represented throughout the process.

LegalMatch is an online legal matching service that connects clients with local attorneys who can handle their legal needs. When you submit your case information to LegalMatch, our system matches you with lawyers in your area who have experience in the relevant practice area. The lawyers will review your case information and offer a free initial consultation to discuss your legal options.

Using LegalMatch can save you time and effort in finding a suitable attorney to handle your spousal support issues. Our service allows you to compare attorneys’ credentials, experience, and fees before choosing the best one for your needs.

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