Gain a Basic Understanding of How Alimony Works
Before filing for divorce, a couple should understand how alimony works. Also referred to as maintenance or spousal support, alimony comes into play when earnings of divorcing spouses differ substantially. In some cases, alimony may be a permanent situation that a paying spouse may be concerned about. Unfortunately, what a paying spouse often thinks is fair is not what the court has in mind. Understanding how alimony works is essential to knowing each spouses rights.
The Inner Workings of Alimony
Alimony is one of the costs of ending a marriage and it has been part of the American divorce system for longer than a century. Being required to pay it does not reflect negatively on a former spouse. It just means that individual was financially better-positioned for self support. Laws are written in all 50-states that deal with alimony and ultimately, it is up to a judge to decide who should get alimony and who should pay.
Each state has different guidelines regarding calculation and duration of alimony. Common considerations are:
- The average net incomes of the spouses
- The duration of the marriage
- The length of time the recipient has been out of the job market
- The age and physical and emotional health of both spouses
- Whether children are involved and the parental responsibilities of each parent
Most alimony arrangements involve monthly payments until a predetermined future date such as remarriage of the recipient, or death of one of the parties. A recipient is expected to become partially or fully self-supporting in many instances. To this end, the expense of finding appropriate employment or acquiring the training or education required is considered when calculating alimony as is the earning capacity of the recipient.
The court will sort through many different variables to determine whether alimony should be paid or not. Unfortunately, there is a sizeable costs in this process. The court may hire an expert to determine the employment prospects for a recipient who has been unemployed or underemployed. An alimony recipient working part-time for low wages at time of divorce may have to get a higher paying, full-time job. If the individual does not make sufficient effort to support him or herself, a judge may order termination of alimony.
Alimony and divorce are legal processes so refusal to make alimony payments is a sure-fire way for a judge to hold an individual who refuses to pay in contempt of court. Penalties for failure to pay alimony vary by state but typically range from being held in contempt of court and garnishment of income tax refunds to time in jail. This basic primer of how alimony works should serve to at least get individuals started on thinking about the subject and preparing for an insightful discussion with their family law attorney so that each individual, whether a potential payor or payee can be prepared for their day in court.