Alimony, also referred to in many jurisdictions as spousal support, refers to court-ordered financial payments that are made by one spouse to the other as a result of a legal separation or becoming divorced. Alimony payments are typically made in regular installments and in accordance with a predetermined schedule.
In general, alimony is ordered when a judge determines during the divorce proceedings that it is just and fair for one spouse to continue to financially support the other. It is important to note that alimony is not required in every case and is typically only required when there is an unjust balance of finances between one spouse and the other. Further, alimony is required even though the two parties will no longer be married to each other.
The amount of alimony that is ordered is typically determined by several factors that consider the ability of one spouse to pay a specified amount of monthly financial support to the other spouse. Once again, when a person qualifies for spousal support, it is intended to help them cover their basic needs, including costs related to food, clothing, shelter, and transportation.
Alimony may also be ordered so that one spouse can maintain the lifestyle they had prior to the divorce. It can also allow one of the spouses sufficient time to obtain financial stability. This is known as rehabilitative alimony. As such, spousal support is not meant to be permanent in nature.
Rehabilitative alimony is another type of alimony that is ordered when one spouse leaves the workforce in order to raise their family or support the other spouse’s career ambitions. This is the most common type of alimony that is required in legal separation or divorce cases. Rehabilitative alimony may also be ordered in any circumstances in which one party was dependent on the other for living expenses.
It is important to note that the amount of rehabilitative alimony required will typically depend greatly on the length of the relationship between the two parties. This means that if the relationship lasted a longer period of time, the alimony required may also last for a longer period of time.
Can Alimony Be Adjusted or Modified?
In short, yes, alimony may be adjusted or modified. Importantly, once a judge has set an amount for spousal support payments and has scheduled those payments, the other spouse is then legally obligated to abide by that alimony order.
However, something may happen that dramatically changes the economic position of either spouse involved. If that is the case, then either spouse may petition the court for a modification of the spousal support order under the family laws of their state. Alternatively, either party can petition to eliminate the spousal support payments altogether, as discussed below.
The party seeking the modification must generally prove that there has been significant change before any request for an increase, decrease, or termination will be considered by the Court. The spouse petitioning for the modification may do this by providing sufficient evidence to the court that demonstrates there has been a significant change in their circumstances.
The petitioning spouse may also show that there has been a significant change in the other spouse’s economic position to the point where changing the order would be the only fair option. However, it is imperative that the spouse ordered to make alimony payments continue to make their scheduled payments, as failure to do so could result in contempt orders.
Examples of significant life changes that commonly lead to a spousal support order being modified include:
- Involuntary loss of employment or significant decrease in income by the party ordered to make payments;
- Cost of living increases in the area.
- Courts will often consider inflation as a reason to modify an alimony order;
- A physical or mental disability manifests that affects the spouse ordered to make payments and ability to work;
- A significant financial emergency or sudden financial hardship;
- The retirement of the party ordered to make payments, especially in cases where the retiring party is military;
- A significant increase in one spouse’s income, such as a raise, promotion, or change in job; or
- Medical emergencies, which apply to either a spouse’s ability to pay or increased need of support for the receiving spouse.
Can Spousal Support Be Terminated Early?
Importantly, once a spouse who receives alimony is able to support themselves independently, alimony is generally terminated. Alimony also commonly terminates after a specified period of time. However, if the alimony was ordered to help the spouse maintain the standard of living that they had during their marriage, alimony payments may continue until they remarry.
Other circumstances in spousal support termination may occur early include, but are not limited to:
- If the recipient spouse has died;
- If the income of the recipient spouse has increased to the point that they are able to sufficiently support themselves or make more than the paying spouse;
- If the paying spouse would experience economic hardship due to the alimony order;
- If the recipient spouse remarries;
- If the recipient spouse has intentionally avoided obtaining a job or is underemployed;
- If the recipient spouse hid assets, property, or other income during the divorce or separation in order to ensure they would receive alimony;
- If the spouse making alimony payments has retired as a result of:
- Being well beyond the age of retirement;
- Involuntary retirement;
- Their overall health status.
At What Age Do You Stop Paying Alimony?
In general, a paying spouse can only stop paying alimony when they retire at the legal age of 65. However, this is dependent on the particular family laws of the state in which the original alimony order was rendered. As such, it is important to consult your local laws regarding terminating alimony to figure out whether or not alimony may terminate after a certain age.
What Can a Spouse Do to Terminate Payments Early?
Once again, a spousal support order may be terminated naturally, such as when the spouse in a spousal support arrangement dies, remarries, or cohabitates with a new partner. In other alimony orders, the court will terminate the order once it has been determined that the spouse no longer requires financial support in order to be stable. However, the paying spouse may also initiate a motion to terminate spousal support.
A paying spouse can begin the termination process by initiating a civil lawsuit with the court through a “petition for termination of spousal support” with their local family law court. Within the petition, the paying spouse will also need to provide supporting documentation that includes the following information:
- The reasons as to why they are seeking a termination of alimony;
- Copies of their recent income statements that disclose how much they earn in a given period of time;
- A list of their expenses that includes a description of their expenses over a specified time frame.
- For instance, a child support order may used to lower an alimony order; and
- Other documentation that indicates a change in circumstances that would warrant the court approving their petition, such as evidence of the recipient spouse’s income, remarriage, or death.
Once the appropriate paperwork is submitted to the court and the filing fees are paid, the petitioning party will then need to serve the other party with a copy of the documents filed. Then, the other party will have a time frame to respond to the allegations contained in the petition. After the necessary legal procedures are complete, the court clerk will schedule a date for a court hearing regarding the petition.
At the court hearing, the court will listen to arguments from both parties and examine any evidence submitted to the court that will help the judge make a clear decision on whether or not alimony should be terminated earlier than expected. However, if the other party does not respond to the petition, then the petitioning party may be able to proceed and receive a default judgment.
What if the Other Party Won’t Pay Alimony?
Once again, if you are making alimony payments and need to have the order modified or terminated, then it is important that you continue making your payments so as not to be held in contempt of court. Not making your payments would be a violation of the current court order.
However, if you are the recipient party and the other party is not paying alimony, then you can initiate court proceedings to enforce the previous court order. In these proceedings, you will also be able to seek attorney fees that were necessary to enforce the prior order. If the enforcement is granted, the court will then garnish the wages of the paying party or give the recipient party an order to levy property of the paying party to pay for their alimony arrears.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Termination of Alimony Payments?
As mentioned above, in order to modify or terminate a spousal support order, you will need to file a petition with the family law court that originally issued the order. As such, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced alimony attorney for help with the termination of alimony payments.
An experienced alimony attorney can help you file your motion correctly, as well as help you prove the reasons why you feel the termination is necessary. Additionally, an experienced attorney will be able to represent you in court as needed.