Spousal support (also called alimony) falls into two broad categories: short-term support and long-term or permanent support. “Reimbursement” support is a kind of long-term support. A spouse may also get temporary support before the divorce is final.
How long one ex-spouse must help support the other is as much in the judge’s discretion as is the amount of support. Some judges start with the assumption that support should last half as long as the marriage did, and then work up or down from there by looking at certain factors. Most states don’t have guidelines for the duration of support, but some do—for example, in Utah, payments are limited to three years except in special circumstances. In Utah, support can’t last any longer than the marriage did. And in some states the marriage must have lasted at least ten years for a court to order support at all. How long support lasts depends on the nature of the support.
It’s possible that a former spouse might receive more than one kind of support at the same time. If a spouse is getting more than one kind of support, say rehabilitative and short-term, then when the spouse is employed again, the rehabilitative support would end. The short-term support would continue until its termination date.
Temporary Support While the Divorce Is Pending
You and your spouse don’t need to wait until everything in your divorce is settled to work out spousal support arrangements. In fact, the support issue may be most important immediately after you separate, to support the lower-earning spouse while your divorce is in process.
It’s always a good idea to make a written agreement about temporary support. (For one thing, payments are tax deductible only if there’s a signed agreement.) If you can’t agree on a temporary support amount, then you’ll probably spend some time in court arguing over it. If you have a right to support, it starts as soon as you separate, so get yourself to court right away.
Short-Term and Rehabilitative Support
Judges order short-term support when the marriage itself was quite short. Short-term support lasts only a few years, and its precise ending date is set in the court order. Rehabilitative support, sometimes also called “bridge the gap” support, is a specific kind of short-term support, designed to help a dependent spouse get retrained and back into the workforce. It lasts until the recipient is back to work. Generally, that date isn’t set in advance—the agreement is that the support payments will stop when the recipient completes a retraining program and becomes employed in the industry. The recipient is responsible for diligently pursuing the training or course of study and then searching for work. The other spouse is responsible for paying the support until that point and a payer who suspects the recipient isn’t really trying to complete an education or get work can ask the court to reduce the support amount or set a termination date. The person asking for the modification would have to prove that the other ex-spouse was not working hard enough.
Long-Term or Permanent Support
Permanent support may be granted after long marriages (generally, more than ten years), if the judge concludes that the dependent spouse most likely won’t go back into the workforce and will need support indefinitely. Some states don’t allow permanent support. It’s odd, but in fact even so-called permanent support does eventually end. Of course, it ends when either the recipient or the payor dies. It also may end when the recipient remarries. And in about half the states, it ends if the recipient begins living with another person in a marriage-like relationship where the couple provides mutual support and shares financial responsibilities.
Reimbursement support is the only type of spousal support that’s not completely based on financial need. Instead, it’s a way to compensate a spouse who sacrificed education, training, or career advancement during the marriage by taking any old job that would support the family while the other spouse trained for a lucrative professional career. Generally both spouses expected that once the professional spouse was established and earning the anticipated higher salary, the sacrificing spouse would benefit from the higher standard of living and be free to pursue a desirable career. If the marriage ends before that spouse gets any of the expected benefits, reimbursement support rebalances the scales by making the professional spouse return some of what was given during the marriage. Because it’s not tied to need, reimbursement support ends whenever the agreement or court order says it does. Its termination generally isn’t tied to an event like the supported spouse getting work or remarrying.
Financially Disadvantaged Spousal Support
The bottom line is that there needs to have been one partner or spouse who was financially disadvantaged as a result of the marriage, and the other partner or spouse benefitted off of the other’s disadvantage. The simplest way to break this down is to look at what I am going to refer to as a “traditional” marriage where the husband works and the wife does the work at home to keep the house and family going. In this situation the wife is not making an income and is therefore disadvantaged, whereas the husband is able to take advantage of the wife’s childcare so that he is able to work himself. So essentially here the wife did not have the opportunity to work outside of the house because of the role she played in the marriage. On the other side of the spectrum is a couple who both worked and had similar incomes and neither lost a work opportunity. In that case it is very unlikely that spousal support will be paid.
Obviously every marriage and roles within that relationship is different but it is the give and take that we look at where one partner or spouse’s giving leaves them in a financially disadvantaged circumstance and the other benefits from the give, there may be a claim for spousal support to compensate for that disadvantage.
Needs Based Spousal Support
There is another type of spousal support that is based out of need, rather than compensation. The basic idea is that where one party is unable to meet their needs after a separation, it should be the former spouse that financially supports that party rather than the government. This type of spousal support is meant to balance financial disparities between the parties for a time after the separation.
When considering the question of spousal support we look at the “financial needs and circumstances”. The circumstances that are considered include the length of the marriage, so the longer the marriage the stronger a claim for spousal support. We look at the incomes of both partners, but it is important to remember that just because one partner make significantly more than the other does not mean an automatic claim for spousal support. The roles that each played within the marriage is looked at to see if there was a disadvantage and subsequent advantage of the other partner. Lastly, the ongoing childcare is also considered meaning that if one partner is going to continue caring for the children then they may be entitled to spousal support above the child support that they will already receive.
How Much and How Long?
Once the “if” entitlement to spousal support is determined, the next question is the “how” – how much and for how long. Spousal support is not necessarily forever. The partner who receives the support is required to work to become self-sufficient while receiving the support. Once the partner reaches self-sufficiency the spousal support stops. Each circumstance is different and so the amount of time that it takes to reach self-sufficiency is different. For instance, someone who is coming out of that traditional marriage may be nearing 60-years-old, and may not have had a job for the past 30 years, so may never find self-sufficiency, nor should they be required to at such a late time in life. Budgets of living in two separate homes will have to be made to help determine how much spousal support is needed. Spousal support is tax deductible by those who pay it and is taxable for those that receive it. So when looking at the amount of spousal support to be paid it is a good idea to take a look at the tax consequences, especially when the partner paying tax is in a higher tax bracket.
There are Guidelines for Spousal Support in Nova Scotia. These guidelines can computer generate a range to give you an idea of the how long and how much spousal support should be paid. But these are guidelines and not rules or laws like the child support tables. This means that they are not always used by every judge. They are just another tool that may help separating spouses.
Other Thoughts on Alimony
I hope that you can see with so many moving parts in the consideration of spousal support that independent legal advice is essential before coming to any agreement. I always would advise going to a collaboratively-trained lawyer because we have collaborative colleagues who are financial professionals specially trained with arranging finances for the transition into two homes. Making an agreement outside of court through kitchen-table conversation with independent legal advice, collaborative law or mediation are, in my humble opinion, the most successful because you are able to tailor the spousal support to each of your needs and incomes and possibly take advantage of the tax consequences of spousal support.
When Does One Spouse Need to Pay Alimony?
When both spouses work full time, many judges will not award alimony. However, when one spouse is a “dependent” spouse, a North Carolina court may award alimony. The spouse with no income or less income will receive alimony from the spouse who has a greater income. Many times, when one spouse decided to stay at home and raise children, judges will award that spouse alimony until he or she can complete the education or job training necessary to obtain gainful employment. There are many factors the court must consider when deciding whether to require alimony payments, including the following:
• The earning capacity of each spouse
• Any marital misconduct on behalf of either of the spouses
• The age of the spouses
• The emotional condition and mental state of each of the spouses
• The earned and unearned income of each spouse, including medical benefits, insurance benefits, Social Security eligibility, wages, and dividends
• The length of the marriage
• Each spouse’s education level at the time of the divorce
• The potential necessity of one or both spouses to receive more training or education to find gainful employment and meet all reasonable financial needs
• The relative debt, liabilities, and assets of each spouse
• Either spouse’s contribution as being a homemaker
• The needs of each spouse
• The separate property each spouse brought to the marriage
• The tax consequences of an alimony award
• Any other factor that is relevant to the financial circumstances of the spouses that the family court finds to be just and proper to consider
• Any contribution that one spouse made to the increase earning power, education, or job skills of the other spouse
• How one spouse’s earning power, financial obligations, and expenses will be negatively affected by that spouse having custody of the couple’s children
How is Alimony Calculated?
The amount and duration of alimony are based on multiple factors under Utah law. When Utah courts examine the factors listed above, they have significant discretion. They may find one factor to be more pressing and important than the other factors. Or, they may determine that other factors are relevant to the couple’s financial circumstances. For example, if the spouses share a business together, or one spouse is part of a trust fund, they may consider those circumstances.
Utah judges also consider any so-called marital misconduct. Keep in mind that Utah judges have a wide range of discretion when it comes to determining when to award alimony and the amounts of the alimony payments. If you seek alimony, it is important that you have a dedicated attorney on your side who will represent your best interest.
What Constitutes Marital Misconduct?
As mentioned above, marital misconduct does come into a judge’s decision making process regarding alimony payments. Utah judges have the authority to decide not to award alimony to a spouse engaged in marital misconduct. Marital misconduct includes excessive drug or alcohol use, adultery, abandonment, or spending a significant amount of marital funds during the separation process.
What happens when one spouse has engaged in adultery?
Under Utah law, judges may require the spouse who will pay alimony to pay higher monthly payments when that spouse has committed adultery. Likewise, judges can require the spouse who committed adultery to pay alimony for a longer time. When the lower-income earner committed adultery before the separation, the judge could bar him or her from recovering alimony. When a higher-income spouse seeks to bar the lower-income spouse from receiving alimony due to adultery, the higher-earning spouse must not have committed adultery.
How Is Spousal Support Calculated?
Utah courts utilize a formula to determine the amount of temporary spousal support that the spouse requesting it will need. For permanent spousal support, however, the court will analyze the specific details of the case to determine the final spousal support amount.
Utah courts consider the following to calculate spousal support:
• The length of the marriage
• Each spouse’s needs as well as their standard of living during the marriage
• The age and health of each spouse
• Debts and assets of the spouses
• Whether one of the partners assisted the other with obtaining an education or professional training
• Whether there was domestic violence in the marriage
• What the tax impact of spousal support will be
The Importance of Earning Capacity & Standard of Living
A judge will closely examine how much income each spouse can earn based on their current education, professional training, and skill set to keep the same standard of living they had during the marriage. Based on this, the judge will analyze how marketable the spouse is and what job opportunities are available for them. The judge will also determine the time and expense it will take for the spouse to get a job.
Length in Marriage
The length that a person has to pay for spousal support is heavily based on the length of the marriage. In most cases, the time period ordered to pay spousal support will be one-half length of the marriage. However, if the marriage was longer than 10- years, the court might not set an end date to the spousal support.
How to Create a Spousal Support Agreement
It is possible for spouses to work together to create a spousal support agreement. In order to create a spousal support agreement, the couple must create and sign a written agreement or stipulation without having to go in front of a judge. This is beneficial for spouses who don’t want a judge to decide for them and want to work on the agreement together. However, the court will have to accept and sign your agreement for it to be official.
To create a spousal support agreement, follow these steps:
1. Decide on the amount and duration of the spousal support
2. Write up your agreement.
3. Sign your agreement
4. Turn in your agreement to the court for the judge to sign
5. File your agreement/stipulation after the judge signs it
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