It is not unusual for spouses going through a divorce or are divorced to want to end financial support or ties with their former spouse. However, there are circumstances a spouse may be compelled to pay alimony (also called spousal maintenance).

Alimony is a compulsory payment or support to be paid by one spouse to the other spouse either after a divorce or during a marriage separation. It is mandatory because it is either contained in a divorce decree or a court has sanctioned the arrangement.

There are ways individuals can navigate around the laws on alimony in their state to avoid paying alimony. This is because there are usually exceptions to spousal maintenance. A good way to find these exceptions is to study the state's alimony guidelines and engage the assistance of a local divorce attorney to find a way to either reduce or suspend or terminate alimony payments.

Are You Able to Modify Alimony?

You will need to review the provisions of your alimony agreement and court order to find out the limitations on changing support. As a rule of thumb, most divorce decrees and marital settlement agreements contain terms such as:

  • How much is to be paid
  • The due dates of alimony payments
  • Whether modifications can be made on the payments and periods for such modifications
  • Whether alimony cannot be changed i.e., no aspect of the alimony can be modified
  • Date or conditions for termination of alimony e.g., where recipient obtains gainful employment

Obtain a New Alimony Order

Sometimes, the alimony order or the marital settlement agreement may not contain a review or modification clause. In this instance, you or your former spouse can approach the court with a request to change the support terms in the alimony order.

How to Avoid Paying Alimony

There are strategies that an individual can adopt to prevent or avoid paying alimony. These models can be applied before marriage, during divorce, or after the divorce is finalized. Some of the strategies include:

Pre-Marriage Contracts (Prenuptial Agreement)

Pre-marriage contracts are very effective for spouses that are seeking to avoid paying alimony in the event of a divorce. Prenuptial agreements are commonly used in marriages to protect the assets of the wealthier spouse if they eventually go through a divorce. It outlines how the marital assets and other assets will be split and whether alimony can be paid or not.

If alimony is ruled out in a prenuptial agreement, the spouses will be free of any alimony obligations if there is a divorce. Also, the court would respect their agreement and would enforce the terms unless there is a vitiating element in the agreement e.g., fraud.

Know About Your Ex-Spouse's Love-life

One of the most recognized exceptions to alimony is where the recipient remarries or moves in with a new partner. In this case, some state laws or alimony orders allow for the stoppage of alimony.

Therefore, you should keep tabs on her relationship status via social media and friends. However, where it is just cohabitation and not a marriage, you may still need to investigate whether the new partner is financially capable of handling their needs. If he or she can, the proof of such financial status should get you off the hook and cease payments.

Cut Down on the Extravagance

Decisions on alimony are usually reached based on a host of factors considered by the court. Some of such factors include the financial income, lifestyle, and expenses/debts of each spouse.

It is only usual for the court to be reluctant in awarding alimony against a low-income earning spouse with a simple and not-expensive lifestyle. This will be the opposite if you have a costly budget for your lifestyle. Some spouses have gone as far as declaring bankruptcy or quitting their jobs to avoid alimony. However, if you can prove that you are heavily behind on some debts, you can be granted a lower amount of alimony to pay or excused altogether.

Proof of Infidelity

Some state divorce laws permit the proof of the infidelity of a proposed recipient during marriage as a ground for denial of alimony to that spouse. Where infidelity is proven, the obligation to pay alimony may be extinguished in these states.

However, the spouse alleging the infidelity of the recipient must prove that the allegation of infidelity did occur to the satisfaction of the court. To prove infidelity requires incontrovertible evidence pictures, witnesses, videos, etc.

Early Divorce

The court often considers the duration of the marriage in determining the amount and length of time for alimony. Where there are strong early signs of unhappiness in the marriage, and things do not improve after giving it your best, you should call it quits before it extends into a long marriage.

A long marriage implies that the amount and duration of alimony would be higher and longer. For example, in Illinois, the longer a marriage is, the longer the alimony and probably the higher the amount.

Child Custody

The courts consider the custody of the kids as a very decisive factor in awarding alimony. The reason is not far-fetched. Raising kids comes at a heavy financial price and where the spouse with the lower income obtains the sole custody of the kids, the chances are that alimony would be paid. However, if you obtain custody of the kids, you have a fairer chance of not paying alimony.

The purpose of alimony is to support the less financially capable spouse till they can receive training to become financially independent. This financial freedom is usually easier to attain without the burden of providing care for the kids. Therefore, if you have the sole custody of the kids, you will likely not have to pay as much alimony to your former spouse, or for a long time.

However, the question of who gets the sole custody of the kids must be carefully considered in the kids' interests and not only to avoid paying alimony. Taking care of kids can be more demanding than working to pay alimony. Also, note that the court may overrule your request for sole custody if you are not convinced that you will provide the necessary care to raise the kids.

The above tactics have worked well for many spouses and can also help you avoid or reduce alimony. But a divorce court may still make an alimony order. Where the court decides to issue such an order, the inevitable question then arises – how will the court determine alimony?

How Will the Court Determine Alimony?

The award of spousal maintenance is at the court's discretion and not a right of either spouse. This is different from child support, where there is a formula to determine how much money will be paid. Some states provide guidelines for the award of alimony.

In the parties' interests, the details of the payment of alimony can be worked out before approaching the court for divorce or before an alimony order is made. The purpose of alimony is to help the recipient adjust to a life outside the marriage and become financially able to meet his or her needs. But it is the court's final responsibility to determine an amount or whether the amount proposed by the parties can fulfill that purpose without causing an unbearable financial burden for the paying spouse.

Determining Alimony

Alimony is meant to be temporary, but there are circumstances that the court may decide that it should be permanent or paid indefinitely. A decision for alimony to be paid permanently is usually considered where the recipient may not be able to obtain gainful employment or attain financial independence due to factors such as old age, physical or mental conditions.

The court also considers some other circumstances different from the "standard" factors when determining alimony. For instance, when deciding the amount of alimony to be paid, evidence of the earning capacity of both spouses would be considered. This implies that the divorce judge would look at each spouse's credentials and skills and the actual market value of his or her capacity.

Where a spouse with a law degree and a license to practice chooses to walk dogs instead, the court will base its decision on the earning ability of the spouse (i.e., the law degree) and not the actual current earnings from walking a dog. This rule works both ways for either spouse.

What are the factors the court will consider in making an alimony order?

  • Duration of the marriage
  • Financial lifestyle while the marriage lasted
  • Custody of the children
  • The current income and actual earning capacity of each spouse
  • Financial support provided by a spouse during the marriage
  • Sacrifices made by each spouse during the marriage (e.g., where a spouse quits the career to take care of the kids)
  • Length of time it will take the recipient before obtaining gainful employment or before he or she acquires the training needed to obtain gainful employment
  • Age and health of each spouse
  • Division of marital property
  • Future asset potential (for example, an inheritance)

What's the Next Step to Understanding Alimony?

To overturn an alimony award is a very challenging task with possibly an enraged or emotional former spouse to deal with and a court to convince. But the task is not impossible.

The first step is to understand your alimony order or settlement agreement and how the alimony laws and guidelines operate in the state you are in.

It is not unlikely that you will require the services of a local divorce attorney since you will need legal advice.