When you’re speaking with your lawyer, they’ll likely mention the word “alimony,” which can elicit a number of reactions. For some, spousal support is a necessary burden of divorce, but for others, it’s added fuel to an already emotionally charged situation. Responses are typically influenced by the spouses’ existing attitudes toward one another, the legal proceedings, and money.
Although it’s tough to determine the number of Americans paying spousal support, as it’s typically not tracked by the U.S. Census, females are predominantly the recipients of alimony payments. However, financial news site MarketWatch reports an American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey found more than four in 10 lawyers “had seen an increase over the past three years in women being on the hook for alimony.”
So, how do judges assess which spouse pays alimony, how much, and for how long? Each state has its own legal precedent and list of factors it considers prior to making a decision. A quick Google search can help you find the determining factors in your state. For example, divorce law firm Meriwether & Tharp, LLC documents each impacting case and law in Georgia here. Although there are variations, every state typically analyzes similar factors, such as:
Standard of Living
Marital standard of living refers to the degree of comfort one experienced during the marriage. Your overall marital lifestyle, including home, vacations, clothes, and other activities, is factored into the decision. For instance, if you enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle as a couple due to your spouse’s high income, it’s likely you’ll be awarded spousal support to attain a similar standard of living.
Duration of Marriage
The duration of the marriage doesn’t necessarily impact the amount one spouse will pay, it affects the length of time of these payments. Generally, the longer the marriage, the more years you’ll have to pay. Nevertheless, if the court decides alimony isn’t justified in your case due to financial reasons, the extent of your marriage will not alter this judgement.
Financial Resources & Conditions
The financial resources of each party is the most important factor when it comes the ultimate determination. The court will consider each spouse’s earned income such as salary, partnership distributions, employment perks, retirement accounts, bonuses, deferred compensation, and carried interest, according to a 2019 article in Forbes by contributors and matrimonial and family lawyers Kelly Frawley and Emily Pollock. Recurring passive income and federal tax returns are also factors. These determine how much each spouse could earn every month, and what the expenses will be for each. Typically, the spouse with the higher income will make spousal support payments to the one with a lower income.
In some cases, the courts delve deeper. A judge may decide that “the supporting spouse’s income is not reflective of what they could be earning or what they relied on during the marriage to support their lifestyle, then they can impute income to that person for the purpose of calculating support,” reads the aforementioned article. For example, if one spouse is working a job that pays less than what they could be earning, the judge may base alimony figures on the potential income that spouse could make. In some instances, spouses deliberately work at lesser-paying jobs to receive alimony. To ensure such circumstances are necessary, that spouse would need to provide evidence.
Physical & Emotional Conditions
Age, as well as physical and emotional conditions, play a role in alimony judgements. For instance, if you suffer from an illness—either physical or mental—it’s more likely you’ll receive alimony to assist your needs. On the other hand, if your spouse is aging and ailing, it’s unlikely they’ll be required to pay you.
Contribution to the Marriage
Spouses can contribute to marriages in ways other than financially, be it homemaking, child care, or education. If a spouse is a stay-at-home parent, the court will take such actions into consideration, for example. A partner who has sacrificed career opportunities to care for the family or support the other’s career is more likely to receive spousal support. The court will also factor in the time the stay-at-home parent needs to obtain employment, extending alimony payments until he or she obtains the necessary skills, education, and employment required to support themselves.
After weighing each of these, the final alimony amount and duration will generally not be more than the receiving spouse’s need or a specified percentage of the paying spouse’s income. For example, Massachusetts’ law states: “Except for reimbursement alimony or unusual circumstances, the amount of alimony should generally not be more than the receiving spouse’s need or 30–35 percent of the difference between the parties' gross incomes established at the time the order is issued.”
For information on how to appeal paying spousal support after a divorce, check out our blog here.
Although you can’t exactly calculate court-mandated alimony, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and lawyer can help you determine whether or not you’ll pay, and approximate the monthly payment range. These experts have dealt with cases similar to yours, so they can give you an accurate estimate. To find a professional in your area, check out DivorceForcePRO, DivorceForce’s database of divorce professionals around the nation.
Gregory C. Frank is the CEO and Founder of DivorceForce.