Alimony is the periodic payment for support and maintenance of a spouse and may be awarded after a limited or absolute divorce. Alimony may be awarded to either party and can be awarded for a definite or indefinite period of time. Alimony for a definite period is commonly known as “rehabilitative alimony” while alimony for an indefinite period is known as “permanent alimony.” An award of alimony is not an automatic entitlement. Alimony is similar to an annuity or pension which enables a spouse to maintain an accustomed standard of living. However, there is an expectation that a spouse should be required, through rehabilitation, to become self-supporting, even if the result is a reduced standard of living.
How does the court determine whether to award Alimony to a spouse?
The court considers many factors when determining whether to award alimony and, if awarded, the amount and duration of the award. Some of these factors include:
- The financial needs and resources of each party;
- The age, physical and mental condition of each party;
- The ability of the party seeking alimony to be self-supporting; and
- The facts and circumstances that contributed to the parties’ separation.
An award of permanent alimony may be granted, if due to age, illness, or disability the party seeking alimony cannot be expected to be self-supporting; or, even after the party seeking alimony has made as much progress toward becoming self-supporting, there still exists a substantial difference between the parties’ standards of living.
Alimony is taxable to the recipient spouse as income and deductible from the payor spouse’s income.
Can an award for alimony be modified or terminated?
Alimony is determined on a case-by-case basis. Unless agreed to otherwise between the parties, it is terminated after the death of either spouse, the marriage of the recipient, or if the court finds that termination is necessary to avoid a harsh and inequitable result. Thus, court-awarded permanent alimony is not necessarily permanent. Unless otherwise provided, both court ordered permanent and rehabilitative alimony are always subject to modification increases, decreases or extensions. However, before an award may be modified, the requesting spouse must first prove a material change in circumstance since the time of the initial alimony award (like in a modification for custody and child support). Generally, this means a change in the financial circumstances of the parties. What amounts to a “material change” is determined by the court. If a payor spouse’s income or standard of living has increased, the recipient spouse will not necessarily receive an increase of support. Modifications to alimony, whether increases or decreases, are based upon the financial need of the parties.
How soon after separation from my spouse can alimony commence?
Alimony Pendente lite is a temporary award of alimony by a court for the support of a spouse while a limited or absolute divorce is still pending. An award of alimony Pendente lite is based solely on the recipient spouse’s immediate support need, independent of marital fault, until a divorce is granted. The purpose of alimony Pendente lite is to maintain the status quo between the parties so that a dependent spouse will not suffer financial hardship during the divorce litigation. The court can order alimony to commence retroactive to the date the request for alimony was filed with the court. This includes requiring one party to pay the joint expenses of the parties, including but not limited to, health insurance, automobile insurance, mortgage/rent, and other family expenses until a final determination is made, in addition to the Pendente Lite Alimony.
How long can a spouse stay on the other spouse’s health insurance policy?
At the merits hearing the court can require that a party continue to provide health insurance for the ex-spouse on top of or as part of the alimony obligation. If the parties are under military health insurance and the parties have been married for more than 10 years of the military spouse’s 20 year military service, it is possible even if alimony is not awarded (or even plead), that the court can order that the military spouse continue to provide health insurance to the non-military spouse.