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Who Gets Alimony and Why?


A divorce is a painful and life-changing event in anyone’s life.  However, when a couple has differences that they believe cannot be reconciled, they may decide that a divorce is the only option.  In those cases, many times the court will order spousal support or alimony payments to one of the spouses.  If you are going through a divorce and wish to seek alimony from your spouse it may be a good decision to hire a divorce lawyer to represent you during the divorce proceedings.

Often, if both partners are wage earners of approximately equal incomes, there may be no spousal support ordered.  If it does become part of the divorce settlement, spousal support can be based on a number of factors, including the following:

  • The age, health, earning ability, emotional stability, and financial stability of the spouses
  • The length of the marriage
  • How long it would take for the non-wage earner to receive education to change that status
  • The standard of living the couple enjoyed during the marriage
  • The ability of the wage-earning spouse to support himself and his former spouse after the divorce

Spousal support agreements can produce many alimony disputes.  It is important to understand the laws in your state and seek the advice of an alimony lawyer or divorce lawyer to resolve those alimony disputes and complete your divorce proceeding. In some cases, the divorcing couples may be able to agree upon the degree of spousal support on their own; other times they may need an alimony lawyer.  If there are alimony disputes, the divorce lawyer may bring in an arbitrator or the case may have to go to court. 

Types of Spousal Support and Alimony
There are several types of alimony potentially ordered by a judge, including:

  • Permanent spousal support or alimony – This can be ordered in special circumstances in which a spouse is physically unable to work or is not trained to work, or the wage-earning spouse has a significant lifestyle the spouse may be unable to attain.  Permanent spousal support usually lasts until the death of the payor, the death of the recipient, or the remarriage of the recipient.  This can be adjusted up or down either by an established periodic review by the parties involved, or by reopening the settlement with the help of an alimony lawyer later.  Alimony disputes are common when adjustments are not originally ordered.
  • Temporary spousal support or alimony – Your alimony lawyer can help you receive this support while the divorce is being decided and until the final settlement is awarded. 
  • Rehabilitative spousal support or alimony – A non-wage-earning spouse may need this type of support to receive education, training, or job experience to live independently.  This can also be ordered when there are small children involved, to allow for child rearing.  This spousal support is usually ordered for a specific period time, but should include instructions for periodic review.
  • Reimbursement spousal support or alimony – This kind of spousal support is often ordered when one spouse has supported the other to reach a specific goal.  Your alimony lawyer can help insure that a spouse you supported in pursuit of a professional or post-graduate degree will reimburse you through this spousal support and avoid alimony disputes over this issue.

If the amount, type, and length of time for spousal support cannot be agreed upon by the spouses, an divorce lawyer can help resolve these alimony disputes.  If he is experienced in your jurisdiction, he may be familiar with how judges rule in similar cases and he may be able to help couples settle their alimony disputes out of court.  If alimony disputes cannot be settled out of court, you and your divorce lawyer may have to have a judge resolve them.

Spousal Support Laws
Once spousal support is ordered, the payor is able to deduct his spousal support payments from his income tax return.  In the same vein, the recipient must pay tax on his spousal support payments as income. 

In some cases, it may be appropriate to pay spousal support in one lump sum instead of period payments until a specific date or event.  When you are receiving spousal support payments, your alimony lawyer may include an order to take out a life insurance policy in the name of the recipient in the settlement.  A divorce lawyer can help you determine if this is legal and appropriate in your state and help you avoid alimony disputes. 

If you are involved in a complicated divorce, your divorce lawyer may need to spend a great deal of time in discovery in order to determine the actual financial and physical status of your partner to avoid future alimony disputes.  Rarely can you accomplish this like an alimony lawyer can.  In addition, most individuals do not know the spousal support laws as well as an alimony lawyer.  Your future and the future of your children can be at stake in alimony disputes, so consider seeking the advice of an alimony lawyer to help you with alimony disputes.

If both partners agree to modify the spousal support agreement in the future, they should work with an alimony lawyer to have that agreement filed with the court.  If alimony disputes arise from that modified settlement and it is not signed by a judge, you may not be able to enlist the court to enforce it and you may face additional alimony disputes in the future. 

Your alimony lawyer can also include a cost of living clause that orders the support to increase at the same rate as the cost of living. This protects you in an inflationary economy and helps avoid future alimony disputes.

Your divorce lawyer can also include an escalator clause by which the payer must increase spousal support payment if his or her income increases substantially.  This has been known to cause alimony disputes in some cases.

If your circumstances or those of your spouse temporarily change, by illness or job loss for example, you may face alimony disputes.  Your divorce lawyer can be helpful in establishing a temporary modification of the spousal support agreement, since verbal agreements can lead to alimony disputes.  An alimony lawyer can help file this temporary settlement with the court.

A spousal support agreement sometimes includes cohabitation as grounds for discontinuing spousal support payments.  This can lead to alimony disputes as well.  If you are the recipient of spousal support payments and you believe you may fall into that category at some time in the future, you may want to have your alimony or divorce lawyer check for such clauses before you sign the agreement.  It will help you avoid those alimony disputes over this issue if that time comes.

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