Spousal support, also commonly known as alimony, refers to recurring monthly payments made by one spouse to the other spouse when a couple is divorced or legally separated. Although the laws and requirements for spousal support will vary by state, it is usually intended to assist the recipient spouse in gaining financial independence.
Spousal support payments also help to ensure that the receiving spouse can retain the lifestyle they have become accustomed to during their marriage or at any point before they were legally separated or divorced from the supporting spouse.
In most cases, the spouse who has the higher salary will typically be ordered to pay spousal support to the other spouse. In other words, whichever of the two spouses is in worse financial condition will normally be the spouse who is allowed to collect alimony.
Generally speaking, a court may order spousal support payments in any of the following situations:
- If one of the spouses has a disability or other medical condition that prevents them from being able to support themselves or get a job;
- If there is a significant imbalance between the two spouses regarding their earning potential and salary;
- If one of the spouses was forced to quit their job to stay home and take care of the couple’s child or children, while the other spouse was permitted to work and earn a living; or
- If one spouse helped to support the other spouse while they pursued an activity that would lead to potentially receiving a higher income (e.g., if one spouse worked and the other attended a graduate program).
It is important to note, however, that spousal support payments will not necessarily last for the rest of the recipient spouse’s lifetime. For instance, certain conditions or circumstances may affect the amount they receive. It can even terminate spousal support permanently if such payments are no longer needed.
Lastly, if you need assistance with either terminating or receiving spousal support, you should contact a local family lawyer or divorce attorney immediately for further legal advice on the matter.
Can Spousal Support Be Terminated Early?
There are some circumstances in which a spouse may be able to end alimony payments early. Again, these conditions and requirements will depend on the laws of the state in which a petition to terminate spousal support is filed. This may include the following:
- If the recipient spouse has died;
- If the income of the recipient spouse has substantially increased to the point they have either become self-sufficient or make more than the spouse paying alimony;
- If the paying spouse would experience economic hardship due to continuing having to make payments at such an amount;
- If the recipient spouse remarries or moves-in with another person (note that this is subject to exceptions based on the laws of individual states);
- If the recipient spouse has intentionally avoided getting a job or becoming self-sufficient;
- If the recipient spouse hid assets, property, or other income to ensure they would receive spousal support payments from the other spouse; and/or
- If the spouse making alimony payments has retired due to one of the following reasons:
- They are well beyond the age of retirement;
- Their employer forced them to retire (e.g., involuntary retirement);
- The length and amount they have paid to the recipient spouse before they retired;
- Their overall health status; and
- Whether they intentionally retired to terminate alimony payments earlier than anticipated.
What Can a Spouse Do to Terminate Payments Early?
As previously mentioned, the steps and overall process to stop alimony payments early will depend on the circumstances surrounding a specific case and on the laws of a particular state.
Generally speaking, however, the paying spouse will need to obtain approval from a court before they will be permitted to stop paying alimony. They can begin this process by filing a court form known as a “petition for termination of spousal support” with their local family law court.
The paying spouse will also need to provide supporting documentation along with their petition, including the following information:
- The reasons as to why they are filing a request to terminate alimony payments earlier than what was initially decided;
- A recent income statement that discloses how much they earn in a given period, the number of income sources they have, how much income they earn per each source, and where their main source of income comes from;
- A list that contains recurring expenses, reveals what those expenses are, and how much the expenses cost over a certain time frame; and
- Various other documents that indicate a change in circumstances that would warrant the court approving their petition.
Once the appropriate paperwork is filed and the court filing fees are paid, the interested parties must be served a copy of the documents that were filed. After the necessary legal procedures are complete, the court clerk will schedule a date for a court hearing regarding the petition.
At this hearing, the court will listen to arguments from both parties and examine any evidence that will help the judge to make a clear decision on whether or not alimony should be terminated earlier than expected.
The judge will then issue a decision based on the parties’ arguments and supporting evidence. If the judge decides to approve the petition, the paying spouse will no longer be legally obligated to make spousal support payments to the receiving spouse.
On the other hand, if the court denies the petition, then the paying spouse must continue to pay alimony to the receiving spouse as if nothing has changed. The court may also decide to reduce, as opposed to completely deny, the amount of alimony that the paying spouse must send to the receiving spouse each month.
There are also some ways to avoid paying alimony altogether, such as if:
- The couple had a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that precludes the other spouse from receiving alimony, or at the very least, reduces the amount they can receive each month;
- A spouse can prove they make less money than the other spouse or are in a worse financial situation that is beyond their control (e.g., terminal illness);
- The paying spouse can prove that the receiving spouse has gotten remarried (subject to exceptions); and/or
- In some states, the duration of the marriage may affect alimony payments. Thus, if the duration of the marriage was extremely short, then a spouse may be able to avoid having to pay any alimony to the other spouse.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Termination of Alimony Payments?
Issues or disputes involving termination of alimony payments can become very complicated; especially, if the two spouses are unwilling to cooperate with one another. Thus, you may want to consider hiring a local family lawyer if you need assistance with terminating or preventing the termination of alimony payments.
An experienced family lawyer will be able to help you modify and prepare the necessary legal documents that are required to petition the court for a termination of alimony payments. Your lawyer can also advise you on the best course of action based on your personal circumstances and can explain what rights you have under the law.
In addition, your lawyer can offer guidance on the likelihood of succeeding on a petition to terminate alimony payments and can devise a new plan in advance should the court deny your petition.
Alternatively, if you are the recipient spouse, your lawyer can assist you in building a convincing case not to terminate spousal support payments as well as can represent you on the matter in court.