Alimony Law - Spousal Support Law - Maintenance Law



What is Alimony Law?

Alimony law provides the rules for awarding financial support to one spouse following a divorce or separation. The purpose of alimony is to avoid unfairness. When a couple parts ways, the court will divide their marital property in an equitable manner, but this may not be enough to avoid an unjust result. For example, one spouse may leave the marriage with a significantly greater earning capacity. To help ensure the other spouse can maintain a standard of living similar to the one enjoyed during the relationship, the first spouse will be ordered to pay support. The amount and duration of alimony is decided pursuant to state law.

Courts will weigh multiple factors when deciding questions of alimony. These include the supporting spouse’s ability to pay, the length of the marriage, and the time it will take the supported spouse to achieve economic self-sufficiency. If the supported spouse has been assigned custody of the couple’s minor children, an alimony award will also reflect the extent to which that spouse must sacrifice career opportunities in order to care for the children in the years ahead. Moreover, alimony statutes usually contain a catchall provision, allowing courts to consider any unique factual circumstances in the case.

While the law provides alimony guidelines for courts to follow after a marriage has ended, couples are free to enter into contracts related to alimony beforehand. Known as prenuptial agreements, these contracts can partially or completely limit a spouse’s post-marital alimony obligations. To be valid, however, a prenuptial agreement must have been executed “knowingly,” and after full disclosure of each spouse’s income and assets. This typically requires that both spouses visit with their own attorneys about the agreement before signing it.

Types of Alimony

Like other matters of state law, alimony statutes are slightly different in each jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the various forms of alimony can be categorized four ways. The first type is permanent alimony. As the name suggests, permanent alimony will continue for life, or until the spouse receiving it gets remarried. Courts will usually refuse to order permanent alimony when the marriage lasted a short time, or when it appears it will be relatively easy for the supported spouse to secure gainful employment. In such cases, the court will likely establish a termination date. This second type of alimony is called limited duration alimony.

The third type of alimony is known as rehabilitative alimony. To qualify, the supported spouse must propose a course of action whereby the spouse will obtain career education or training. The idea is to award a specific amount of support to finance the plan, after which further alimony will not be necessary. The fourth type of support is reimbursement alimony. This is designed to repay contributions made during the marriage. For example, reimbursement alimony is appropriate when the supported spouse paid for the other spouse to earn an advanced degree, but the marriage did not last long enough for both to enjoy the financial rewards of that education.

Establishing a Right to Support

Convincing a court to award alimony is a matter of presenting facts about the marriage relationship in a way that addresses the statutory guidelines. For instance, a typical alimony statute might include the marital standard of living as a factor for the court to consider. Thus, to maximize the amount of alimony, the supported spouse should gather and present evidence of the couple’s regular expenditures during the marriage. In addition to receipts, account statements, and other documents, the supported spouse could call the couple’s acquaintances to testify as to what life was like in the household prior to divorce.

Of course, a spouse seeking alimony may not have personal access to all financial records bearing on the issue of the couple’s past finances. The discovery process is meant to rectify this problem. Discovery is the procedure whereby each party demands that the other turn over copies of relevant evidence. In an alimony case, discovery is sure to include all forms of financial information. In short, the supporting spouse cannot try to hinder or prevent the efforts of the supported spouse by refusing to allow access to the evidence needed to establish a right to receive alimony.

Modification of an Alimony Award

All types of alimony have one thing in common – they are awarded in order to address the needs of the supported spouse. What happens if the needs of the supported spouse unexpectedly change after alimony has been established? The answer is that the court will modify or terminate alimony, as long as there is sufficient proof that the need no longer exists. For example, even if the supported spouse has not remarried, if it becomes evident that he or she is receiving financial support from a new partner, the court may decide to reduce the level of alimony accordingly.

Consult an Alimony Lawyer

If you have questions about your alimony rights or obligations, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney in your area. Factors may exist that you have not considered. Even if you have a cordial relationship with your former spouse, alimony is an issue that requires independent legal advice.

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