While a divorce may end all your marital obligations to your ex-spouse, it may not end all your financial obligations. Even in a divorce that doesn’t involve children, you may owe your ex alimony or spousal support monthly payments designed to limit any unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing income to a non- or lower-wage-earning spouse. But determining how much a spouse will owe or receive in alimony isn’t always so straightforward.
Here are five factors courts, attorneys, and soon-to-be exes can use to figure out the amount of alimony in a divorce.
• Alimony Calculator: To give divorcing parties an estimate of what alimony payments will be, some law firms, state bars, and other online legal resources offer “alimony calculators” that allow you to plug in a few key factors like income, earning, and standard of living during the marriage, and get an estimate of their alimony obligations.
• Standard of Living: It’s a phrase that gets thrown around (and misunderstood) a lot during divorce proceedings, especially separations of the rich and famous. But standard of living can come into play during any divorce involving a large disparity in income.
• Reasons For Reducing Spousal Support: Just because alimony payments are set at a certain amount initially, doesn’t mean they will always stay that way. Significant changes in life circumstances can mean altering or reducing spousal support.
• When Does Spousal Support Stop: Sure, the amount may change, but can you ever stop paying or receiving alimony altogether? While the parties can end spousal support by agreement, there are also some state laws that end financial obligations after certain life events.
• What to Do When Your Ex Stops Paying Alimony: If an ex-spouse stops making spousal support payments before the obligation ends, what can you do about it? While not paying alimony doesn’t have the same legal and financial consequences as skipping out on child support, a non-paying ex could be charged with contempt of court if they stop paying alimony.
Eligibility for spousal support
Spousal support is the equivalent to what is traditionally called alimony. Spousal support is an item separate from child support. Alimony is not a guaranteed part of your divorce. Circumstances such as adultery or abandonment nullify the spouse’s rights to request spousal support. Typically spousal support is awarded for a spouse ending a long term marriage (10+ years) where one spouse has minimal income earning potential.
Eligibility Factors for Spousal Support
• Living standards while living together – is there a financial need?
• Length of time married
• Receiving spouse’s age, earning potential, physical condition
• Contributions to the marriage of value but not income producing
Calculating Spousal Support Amounts
Spousal support payments are calculated and awarded by the court. There are no set formulas for calculating spousal support. The financial support calculation process could be considered to be subjective and arbitrary. The basis for any award of support (alimony) is generally based on the needs of one spouse and the ability to pay by the other spouse.
Temporary Spousal Support
Temporary support is often awarded while a divorce process is being managed. This could be especially important when a spouse has no income source and will be living alone. Temporary support payments may be ordered to be paid weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.
Permanent Spousal Support
Permanent support is a misnomer as this is usually awarded for only a limited duration of time. It is almost a certainty that spousal support will be for a limited period of time. The general thought is that this money is provided for a period of time that allows the spouse to become self sufficient. Even if long term support is awarded the amount may be reduced through a support modification request.
How Long Does Spousal Support Last
The duration of support payments varies. It may be time based such as 1/3 the length of the marriage, or based on the amount of time it may take the receiving spouse to develop an income stream. Paying support can end abruptly through a divorce modification process if the paying spouse can prove the situation of the receiving spouse has dramatically improved (i.e., wins a lottery, receives a large inheritance, new marriage, etc.) The person paying support may be able to modify the amount of monthly payments by proving chronic financial hardship.
Spousal Support Modifications
Support Modification is a hot topic throughout the time period where support payments are required. Often, a person’s income changes substantially which directly impacts the need for or ability to pay financial support.
Contempt for non-payment of alimony
Failure to pay any court mandated support is cause for arrest on charges of contempt of court. It is not uncommon for a support payment to be late however; habitual payment problems or deliberate refusal to pay can result in jail time or garnishment of wages. In the past, courts awarded alimony only to women. Now, women make up more of the work force, and they can receive property when a divorce occurs. As a result, some women find themselves on equal or even higher footing than their male counterparts when going through divorce. In awarding alimony, a court considers several factors, none of which is gender. These factors include: each party’s ability to obtain employment; each party’s future earning capacity; one party’s ability to pay alimony to the other party; which party has custody of any minor children; the length of the marriage; and then length of time one party needs financial support from the other party.
Average Duration of Alimony
In short and medium-length marriages, courts generally award alimony for a duration of one-half to one-third the length of the marriage. For marriages of 20 years or more, a court may award permanent alimony, depending on the age of the spouse receiving alimony. For example, for a marriage that lasted at least 20 years, the spouse receiving alimony can receive permanent alimony if the spouse is over age 50. The recipient of alimony receives alimony payments as long as the spouse has a need for support. Therefore, when the alimony recipient remarries or cohabits, the spouse’s alimony payments can be discontinued.
Once your divorce is final and alimony decisions are made, either by the court or through your own agreement with your ex, they can be changed. Once again, it depends. If alimony is granted for an extended period, it normally terminates if the receiving spouse remarries, unless there’s an agreement or court order to the contrary entered at the time of the divorce. However, judges in some states, in some circumstances, have the discretion to continue alimony even after the spouse receiving it remarries unless your written settlement agreement specifies that payment will stop if one of you remarries. if the alimony recipient starts living with a partner, rather than remarrying, Alimony may still be terminated or reduced, depending on where you live and the circumstances:
• Most states will authorize reduction or termination of alimony upon cohabitation only if the cohabitation significantly decreases the recipient’s need for support.
• Other states will terminate alimony regardless of whether the recipient’s economic need is diminished by cohabiting.
• In still other states, alimony will not be affected should the spouse who receives it begin living with someone.
In those states that do not have laws or court decisions that specifically address the impact cohabitation might have on alimony, it is difficult to predict how a judge will rule. Regardless of state law, if you and your ex-spouse have made an agreement that support or alimony won’t be affected by the person who receives it living together with someone new, your agreement will stand. And bear in mind that the person requesting a change in alimony or support payments is the one who must prove that an ex-spouse’s economic situation has changed significantly.
The controlling statute that the court must consider in establishing permanent spousal support states the following: The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:
• The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.
• The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.
• The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
• The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
• The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
• The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
• The duration of the marriage.
• The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.
• The age and health of the parties
• Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.
• The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
• The balance of the hardships to each party.
• The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time
• The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award
• Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.
The duration of spousal support is left to the discretion of the court within certain general equitable principals and guidelines.
Length of Spousal Support
A general rule is that spousal support will last for half the length of a less than 10 years long marriage. However, in longer marriages, the court will not set alimony duration. The burden will be on the party who pays to prove that spousal support is not necessary at some future point in time. The duration of spousal support is left to the discretion of the court within certain general equitable principals and guidelines most often set forth in common law case histories. In the late 1990s, alimony duration was linked to a transition period from married to single life. The circumstances vary from person to person, but the courts rarely favor “lifetime support.”
To give you an idea of how long do you pay alimony, the duration guidelines are as follows:
• If your marriage lasted up to 15 years, the duration of maintenance may be between 15% and 30% of the total time you were married; or
• If your marriage between 15 years and 20 years, the duration of maintenance may be between 30% and 40% of the total time you were married; or
• If your marriage lasted more than 20 years, the duration of maintenance may be between 35% and 50% of the total time you were married.
Basing calculations on net earnings alone could potentially overlook sources of income, so some states use gross figures. If you work for someone on a salaried basis and have no other income, your net earnings would be a reasonable reflection of what you have available to pay alimony: your salary minus allowable deductions such as for taxes. While other income may not be subject to withholding, however, it still contributes to your overall available resources. For example, your employer might supply you with a car, so you don’t have a car payment or associated auto expenses. Courts can add the value of a company-owned car to gross income, or they might impute income to a spouse who is deliberately under employed because she hopes to avoid paying alimony. Attempting to estimate deductions in such iffy scenarios can leave a wide and potentially unfair margin for error, so gross incomes are used instead.
States that base alimony calculations on net income typically begin with gross income, then apply a uniform, statutory list of allowable deductions. Your net income in these jurisdictions is not necessarily what your paycheck says you bring home each week. Your take-home pay might be less than you could potentially have available based on voluntary deductions such as pension loan payments or contributions to a charity. Therefore, net income is usually determined as your gross income minus taxes and, if applicable, mandatory union dues. Some states also deduct child support payments.
Utah Alimony Lawyer Free Consultation
When you need legal help with alimony in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We can help you with Divorce. Spousal Support. Child Custody. Asset Division. Debt Division.
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