Spousal support, also referred to as alimony, refers to recurring monthly payments that are made by one spouse to the other spouse when the couple becomes separated or files for divorce.
The court is charged with determining the amount of alimony that should be paid to the receiving spouse. It does this by analyzing a number of different factors, such as:
- Whether both spouses are capable of financially supporting themselves without financial assistance from the other spouse;
- The lifestyle that the requesting spouse is accustomed to, and;
- The ability of the requesting spouse to find a job if they are not currently working.
Some other important details about a marriage that factor into the court’s decision of whether to award alimony or not include:
- The length of the marriage;
- The age of the parties;
- The physical and mental health of the parties;
- How marital property will be divided;
- The education level and earning capacity of each individual spouse;
- Whether one of the spouses supported the other while they were earning a degree or getting special training to further their career;
- Whether both spouses have a job;
- The lifestyle that the couple currently has;
- Whether the couple has children together and if the paying spouse will need to pay for child support as well;
- Whether the couple has any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements; and/or
- Various other factors that may be relevant to the court’s decision.
Depending on which party you are (e.g., the supporting or receiving spouse), you will have to demonstrate either your need for alimony or the other spouse’s ability to support themselves without your financial assistance.
For example, to make a strong case for not having to pay alimony, you should prove that your spouse has a solid paycheck and can take care of themselves without your support. Alternatively, if they require more education or training to become self-sufficient, find a way to show that alimony should only be temporary.
On the hand, if you are the receiving spouse, then you will want to show that your need for alimony is essential. For instance, if you do not currently have a job, have sacrificed your career for the other spouse (e.g., to take care of the household, relocated to an undesirable place for their job, etc.), or are unable to maintain your current lifestyle without their financial assistance.
The length of the marriage is another key factor that can affect the final court order. While a court can still award alimony even if it was a short marriage, the general rule of thumb is that the longer the marriage was, the more likely it is that a spouse will receive alimony.
In sum, to make a strong case for spousal support, you will either have to demonstrate a concrete need for alimony or provide valid reasons as to why your spouse should not receive alimony. Both spouses can do this by submitting sufficient evidence to the court, such as a list of assets, bank account statements (e.g., joint and individual), and a marriage certificate to prove the length of the marriage.
How Can I Prepare for a Strong Spousal Support or Alimony Case?
In order to prepare for a strong spousal support case, each spouse should begin by making a list of assets that contains the value of each of the assets on the list. This will make it easier to figure out what types of documents each spouse will have to collect to either show their need to receive alimony or to argue against having to make alimony payments to the other spouse.
For example, if a spouse is requesting alimony, then they should provide financial documents that prove they are dependent on their spouse. On the other hand, the supporting spouse should find documents that prove the other spouse either makes enough money at their job and does not require alimony payments. Alternatively, they can show they do not have the means to support both themselves and their soon-to-be former spouse.
In addition to gathering documents related to the divorce case (e.g., marriage certificate, separation agreement, etc.), the parties should also be prepared to hand over personal documents, such as:
- A form of identification like their Social Security number, passport, or driver license;
- Bank account statements from a personal checking or savings account;
- Documents associated with their new living arrangements (like a lease for an apartment if they moved out of the marital home) and/or
- A list identifying items and the value of personal property.
The parties should also be sure to collect all legal documents that may be relevant to their case and could potentially be used as evidence. This may include:
- Prior divorce decrees;
- Marriage licenses from past relationships;
- Individual, joint, and gift tax returns;
- Wills (especially, if the couple has a joint will);
- Insurance or benefit policies; and/or
- Documents connected to a business that is owned by both spouses.
In some cases, a party may need to make changes to certain legal documents. For example, if their current spouse is listed as the beneficiary on their insurance policy and they want to remove them due to the divorce.
The more information that each of the parties gather, the quicker the alimony case will go since the parties will not have to spend as much time organizing all of these materials.
Lastly, each spouse should search for and hire a divorce lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer will not be able to meet with a spouse once they have already met with the other party. The parties may also want to consider retaining their own financial planners to deal with the forthcoming financial changes.
What Type of Documents and Questions Should I Gather Before I Meet with My Alimony Lawyer?
As previously mentioned, strong cases for alimony are able to demonstrate a clear and absolute need for spousal support payments. Thus, many of the documents that a requesting spouse should gather before meeting with an alimony attorney are those that demonstrate this need.
For instance, spouses who stay home to take care of the household and their family members should provide documents that prove they rely on the working spouse’s income. This may include:
- Receipts for household items (e.g., groceries, cleaning supplies, appliances, etc.);
- Personal bank account statements (to prove they do not have a source of income); or
- Joint bank account and credit card statements.
Basically, any financial statements or records that demonstrate the need for spousal support. Some other examples include:
- Tax returns;
- Marriage certificate (e.g., to show the length of the marriage);
- Title and deed to marital home (if applicable);
- Credit card statements and credit reports;
- Investment or retirement account statements;
- Health benefits (especially, if they are dependent on the working spouse);
- Medical records if the spouse has an ongoing health condition;
- Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements (if applicable);
- List of assets and the value of each of those assets; and
- Various other documents that prove the need for alimony and an inability to pay for the same lifestyle without it.
Individuals meeting with an alimony lawyer should also draw up a list of questions they have for their lawyer. For instance, if they have not officially hired the alimony lawyer yet, then they should ask them questions about billing and how they plan on handling their case.
On the other hand, if they have already retained a lawyer’s services, then they should ask them any questions they have about the case or about alimony in general (e.g., how does alimony affect personal tax returns, etc.).
What Makes a Strong or Weak Spousal Support Case?
All of the factors that were discussed above will assist in building a strong case for spousal support, namely, documents that prove there is either a need or no need for alimony payments, depending on which party is reviewing this information.
A weak spousal support case, however, will prove exactly the opposite. For instance, if a spouse is claiming they need spousal support, but in reality, can actually support themselves because they have a good salary, then this can make their case for alimony payments weak.
In contrast, a spouse who claims they should not have to pay spousal support may have a weak case if the other spouse can prove that they rely on their income. The other spouse can also weaken their case by demonstrating that they do not have the proper skills or ability to secure a solid paying job like the supporting spouse.
What Types of Spousal Support or Alimony Cases Benefit the Most from an Attorney’s Help?
Spousal support cases that may benefit the most from an alimony attorney’s help include the following types of cases:
- Cases where the parties do not get along with each other;
- Cases where the parties own a valuable or large sum of assets;
- Cases where one or both of the parties do not understand the requirements of an alimony case;
- Cases where one or both of the parties have multiple current or past divorce-related court orders (e.g., child support and visitation orders, child custody orders, previous divorce decrees, prior spousal support orders, etc.); and/or
- Cases where the parties need to amend, modify, or terminate a spousal support order.
When Do I Absolutely Need a Spousal Support or Alimony Attorney?
Spousal support attorneys are most often needed in the following situations:
- When the parties getting a divorce have a contentious relationship;
- If the parties have to modify or amend a spousal support order;
- When there is a dispute over alimony payments; and/or
- If one or both parties were previously married and are already paying alimony to another former spouse.
Thus, if any of these factors apply to you and your spouse’s situation, then you may want to hire a local family attorney to handle your alimony case. You may also want to hire an alimony attorney if you are unsure of the laws or how to manage an alimony case.
An attorney who has experience in dealing with spousal support cases can explain the relevant alimony laws in your state as well as the necessary legal procedures to obtain a spousal support order. In addition, your lawyer can help you build a persuasive case and draft any required legal documents. Your lawyer can also perform legal research that is relevant to your matter and can provide representation in court.