In the past, couples with significant differences in their incomes would be subject to spousal support agreements during their divorces. Spousal support, often referred to as alimony, was a way to help the lower-income spouse get by even after the divorce. However, times have changed, and to get spousal support, the payee (lower-income spouse) must meet specific requirements.
The court no longer solely looks at how long you have been married to arrive at a decision. Instead, it also considers other factors such as the payee's age, the grounds of the divorce, etc. Also, spousal support terms are not equal. Some last until the payee dies or remarries, while others last for a limited time.
We will consider all these options to help you understand what you may or may not get out of your impending divorce.
Types of Spousal Support
It is easy to assume that the lower-income spouse will get substantial alimony following the divorce. However, doing so can set you up for disappointment. First, you must understand that not all states are the same. While some states favor alimony, others do not and can end up throwing the spousal support plea out of the court. Secondly, alimonies come in different forms as follows:
- Permanent alimony
- Durational alimony
- Rehabilitative alimony
- Bridge the gap alimony
Permanent alimony is the longest-lasting form of spousal support.
The payee, in this case, continues receiving alimony payments from the higher income spouse until the payee's death or remarriage.
Durational alimony, on the other hand, has a time limit. For example, the court may order the higher income spouse to keep up with alimony payments until all the children are aged 18. After this, the payee would not be subject to spousal support. Courts have their mechanisms of deciding how long the alimony will last based on the evidence presented before the court.
Rehabilitative alimony works to help the payee stabilize their finances and become independent of the higher income spouse. For example, if the payee can undergo some training to help them secure a well-paying job, the higher income spouse can pay alimony to help them achieve this. Once the payee has progressed to an acceptable standard, the court can allow the higher-income spouse to cease the payments.
Finally, there is the bridge-the-gap alimony. The point behind this support is to help the payee get their ducks in a row after the divorce. Many people find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place after divorcing their higher-income spouses. The court may require that the more financially stable spouse support the payee for a short while, even after the divorce. However, this arrangement is often short-lived.
How Court Determines the Type of Spousal Support
Wouldn't it be nice if there was a clear breakdown of the amount of spousal support due after a divorce?
Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Instead, courts often take one of two routes. In the first one, the court may decide that no alimony is necessary and throw the spousal support plea out of the court. It can happen where the court does not see any substantial evidence supporting the alimony claim.
In the second one, the court may agree to award alimony to the payee. Even so, the amount is not standard as the court must consider:
- The age of each spouse: older spouses are more likely to get permanent alimony because their ability to generate income is low.
- The physical condition of each spouse: a spouse with health problems has a higher chance of getting alimony.
- The financial status of each spouse: if one spouse cannot meet their basic needs without the help of the other, alimony may be due.
- The emotional status of each spouse: emotional and mental distress can lead to the awarding of alimony.
- The support afforded to the higher income spouse: if the payee sacrificed their time and resources to support the higher income spouse, the court could use this as grounds for alimony. The same goes for if the payee played the role of homemaker or sacrificed their career and education for the higher income spouse.
- The living conditions of the couple before the divorce: if the payee will suffer a significant negative difference in living standards, the court may look kindly upon their case.
- How long the spouses have been together: being married for a longer period increases the chances of alimony
- Other factors that the court considers instrumental to the decision
In states that allow fault divorces, spouses can also use fault as a basis to get alimony. For example, if the divorce owes to adultery, physical abuse, abandonment, drug use, etc., the court may award the payee a higher alimony amount. Florida is an excellent example of this. Additionally, the state is clear about how long spouses can get alimony payments based on the length of the marriage. Spouses who have been together longer are more likely to qualify for permanent alimony than those married for a few years.
However, some states are not clear on the relationship between the length of the marriage and alimony. Instead, various factors can affect the final payout (if any). California is an excellent example of this.
Examples of State Law
Please note that the final award comes down to the evidence presented before the court. However, it helps to see what the likely outcomes are in different states based on the length of the marriage.
California is clear about what constitutes a long marriage. Couples who have been together for at least 10 years are more likely to get permanent spousal support terms. In this case, the payments may continue until the payee dies or remarries. However, couples who have been together less than 10 years are not likely to get such terms. Instead, they may get alimony paid for half the number of years they were together. So, for example, if a couple was together for 6 years, alimony may be due for 3 years after the divorce.
The final decision depends on other factors, and the payments may be due for a longer or shorter period.
In Texas, it is much harder to get spousal support, which the court refers to as maintenance. First, spouses have a higher chance of getting alimony if they were married at least 10 years. Secondly, even if the marriage lasted this long, the payee must prove that they:
- Do not have enough resources to meet their minimum reasonable needs, or
- Are physically or mentally unable to take care of themselves, or
- Must be at home to care for a physically or mentally disabled child, or
- Cannot get a well-paying job to cater to their minimum reasonable needs.
Demonstrating one or more of the above requirements can help a spouse get maintenance. Even so, it is only valid for as long as the payee cannot support themselves. Furthermore, it has a time limit depending on the length of the marriage. For example, a couple that has been together for at least 30 years is subject to alimony for at most 10 years.
Your Alimony Award
Being the lower-income spouse no longer translates to getting alimony. Instead, it depends on the state where you file for divorce, the length of your marriage, and other determining factors. Even the grounds for your divorce play a part in the final agreement. To better understand how alimony works, you can look up legal resources like The American Bar Association and engage an attorney.