What You Need To Know About Spousal Support and Alimony Laws In Georgia

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Are you going through a divorce? First, learn about your potential rights and obligations regarding spousal support in Georgia.

Most people never expect their ‘Happily Ever After’ to push them to their breaking point, but those trapped in an unhappy marriage might see divorce as a second chance at life. But fresh starts aren’t always simple. Divorce proceedings don’t come with guaranteed outcomes. Some may be amicable—but others will be costly and complex. It’s important to know the potential financial rights (and obligations) a divorcée in Georgia may be subject to, such as spousal support, also known as alimony.

There’s no easy way to initiate a divorce, but knowing more about the potential financial ramifications or rights empowers you to make more informed decisions. Let’s look closer at alimony factors in Georgia to understand the various types of spousal support, the elements that play into determining payment amounts and duration, and the steps to modifying an existing alimony order.

Spousal Support in Georgia
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Types of Spousal Support in Georgia

Georgia has two basic types of spousal support: temporary and permanent, which may be paid in periodic (ie. monthly/weekly) payments, or one lump sum.

Temporary Spousal Support

Divorces can sometimes take years to finalize. One party may need financial support to cover expenses while the case is pending. The court generally grants temporary alimony to a spouse who earns significantly less or was not the primary breadwinner during the marriage; as such, the court limits the duration of such alimony to the length of the divorce proceedings.

If temporary alimony is granted, the financial well-being of the stay-at-home parent or otherwise dependent spouse is secured during the transitory divorce period. However, this type of spousal support terminates after the proceedings.

Permanent Spousal Support

The court generally orders permanent alimony as a part of the final decree. However, it’s somewhat misleadingly titled. Indeed permanent alimony is generally reserved for cases where the dependent spouse has a chronic illness, a disability, or is of advanced age and unable to obtain or hold a job that could sustain them financially.

Otherwise, the court grants permanent alimony orders to support one party while they obtain job training or education to reenter the workforce. Permanent alimony orders generally expire after a preset number of years. Alimony also terminates upon the death or remarriage of the supported spouse.

Alimony and Tax Implications

Of course, there are tax implications related to alimony.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act separates the tax liabilities of divorces finalized during or before 2018 from those that were decreed after January 1st, 2019. Before 2019, alimony payments were deductible for the payer and considered taxable income for the recipient. Now, spousal support is not deductible—and therefore the receiver doesn’t need to pay tax on the alimony they receive.

This carries significant implications for both parties in a divorce. Those seeking alimony may want to consider extracting equity from other portions of the marital estate, as their spouse may be more averse to large payments. On the other hand, those paying alimony may also want to use other assets like retirement accounts or home equity as compensatory offerings to mitigate future cash flow issues. But each case is unique—so it’s important to consult with a personal attorney to determine how to proceed.

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There's a light at the end of the tunnel. There's a possibility for you to set yourself up to where you are going to be able to move on and be able to move on comfortably. — Dominic Jones, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor

Factors Considered in Determining Spousal Support Payments

The judge will calculate the payment size of spousal support on a case-by-case basis. In the majority of cases, alimony payments are awarded on a monthly or weekly basis until the court orders them to cease or upon the death or remarriage of the supported spouse.

However, in cases where there are other options, such as when there are substantial assets or the breadwinning spouse has a high enough net worth to provide alimony in a lump sum, the court may order spousal support as a one-time payment.

Numerous other factors may impact the final support award, including the following:

  • The marriage’s length
  • The division of domestic labor
  • Potential individual earning capacity
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The dependent spouse’s ability to secure employment
  • The potential need for job training
  • Misdeeds that occurred within the marriage
  • Assets and debts
  • Spousal contributions that assisted in career-building like childcare or homemaking

Duration of Alimony Payments

The presiding judge determines the duration of spousal support payments under the relevant alimony factors discussed prior. Temporary spousal support will, of course, terminate once the divorce decree is issued. On the other hand, the length of permanent alimony will largely depend on the judge, automatically ending upon the death or remarriage of the supported spouse.

Pertinent factors include the length of time the supported spouse will take to obtain the education or credentials they need to achieve independent financial stability, their standard of living during the divorce, and the amount of time they’ve been out of the workforce.

What if the Payor Spouse Doesn’t Want to Pay Spousal Support or Alimony?

Barring any early termination, the payor could face penalties for failing to meet their court-ordered obligations. Depending on the severity of the delinquency, the court may garnish up to 50% of the spouse’s wages, enforce the sale of property, charge interest on outstanding payments, or, in infrequent instances, even order jail time.

Spousal Support
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What to Do if You Need to Modify an Existing Alimony Order

Unless there’s a written agreement that neither party will seek to alter the alimony agreement in the future, either spouse can request a review of the terms. However, the spouse seeking to modify alimony must prove that there’s been a significant change in financial circumstances. Also, it’s important to note that lump sum payments are exempt from later modification.

Common reasons for spousal support modification include the following:

  • Involuntary job loss on the part of the payor
  • Injury or illness on the part of the payor
  • Income increases for the supported spouse
  • Any significant life event that results in a notable financial impact

It's all a marital balance. We have to balance out the assets and the debts to see if we can come to an agreement. — Dominic Jones, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor

Determining Your Spousal Support Rights and Obligations in Georgia

If you’re considering a divorce, know that there are no guaranteed outcomes for either party. The process may be relatively smooth—or, depending on the level of acrimony, it may be a grueling battle. The only way to prepare for every potential eventuality is to retain an experienced attorney who can advocate for your interests through every step of the process.

Whether you want to receive spousal support or avoid paying it, the right attorney can help you fight your case. Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor is a premier divorce and family law practice in Georgia. Their partners are leading advocates in matters of family law, including divorce.

Reach out today to consult with a Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor attorney.