How is alimony determined in a divorce? Alimony is a monetary payment made from one spouse to the other spouse after they decide to dissolve their marriage. Alimony is meant to be paid for support and maintenance of the other spouse. It is actually not as common as some may think. In uncontested divorces in Autauga County, the parties could agree that alimony should be paid, but in contested divorces, alimony is not guaranteed but rather rarely awarded. It tends to be awarded to spouses who have been married for a long period of time, have vastly different incomes, and have been stay-at-home parents, but alimony may be awarded based on other circumstances, too.
The purpose of alimony in a Jefferson County divorce is to support the receiving spouse to where they can continue to live at the same financial level that they were living at during the marriage. For example, if a spouse has been a stay-at-home parent for years, then they may have a hard time finding a job because they have been out of the workforce for so long and may not have the proper experience or training to perform the job. Another way to think about alimony is to consider the spouses that make drastically less than the other spouse because they would not be able to continue living at the same economic status without the support of the higher-earning spouse.
There are different ways that alimony may be awarded. Alimony is usually paid either “in gross” or periodically. Alimony in gross is when the award amount is paid in a lump sum, or it can be alimony in gross if the payment is for a specific, set period of time. Periodic alimony, however, is when the award amount is to be paid in installments for an indefinite period of time until it terminates, so it does not specify a set amount of time. There is also rehabilitative alimony, which awards periodic alimony only for a set period of time instead of indefinitely. This type of alimony is usually awarded to allow the receiving spouse the opportunity to get the education or training they need in order to return to the workforce.
In contested divorces, the Circuit Court judge is tasked with determining alimony. The Circuit Court judge has the discretion to award alimony as they see fit. There is not a formula or guideline to follow. However, judges usually consider multiple factors when determining whether they will award alimony. The judge may consider the receiving spouse’s financial need, the paying spouse’s ability to pay, the length of the marriage, the income of each spouse, the division of their marital property, and any other factors that the judge believes should be considered. The judge may also consider any sacrifices that the receiving spouse has made for the paying spouse’s benefit. An example of this would be when one spouse solely supported the family with their individual income while the other spouse went to school and was not earning an income.
While alimony is fully dependent on the judge’s discretion, it may be modified or terminated in the appropriate circumstances. Alimony may be modified by the request of either spouse as long as they can prove that there has been a material change in the circumstances that either affects the need for alimony or the ability to pay alimony. For example, if the paying spouse became unemployed or was injured to where they could no longer work and maintain their previous income, then the alimony award would need to be modified in a divorce accordingly.
As for termination, most divorce decrees include contingencies where there are certain situations that will terminate any obligation of alimony. The most common situations where alimony has been terminated are when the receiving spouse remarries, cohabitates with the opposite sex, or becomes self-supporting. The receiving spouse is considered to be self-supporting when they make more income than the paying spouse or when their financial assets, as a whole, are larger than the paying spouse. Alimony may also be terminated upon the death of either spouse.
Attorney Steven A. Harris regularly blogs in the areas of family law, bankruptcy, probate, and real estate closings on this website. Mr. Harris tries to provide informative information to the public in easily digestible formats. Hopefully you enjoyed this article and feel free to supply feedback. We appreciate our readers & love to hear from you!