Alimony and Spousal Support
Post-divorce spousal support, which is often referred to as "alimony" or "separate maintenance," can be awarded for a number of reasons. Unlike child support, there are no State requirements for spousal support awards in divorce. In general, it is intended to take into account the contributions of spouses, either male or female, who have cared for the children or supported the careers of their working spouses.
In Georgia, alimony is not a right, but it can be appropriate in certain situations and awarded over time or in one lump sum after a divorce settlement. In order to determine eligibility, courts consider a number of issues, including the needs, income and assets of each spouse.
Determining Spousal Support
When determining whether alimony is to be awarded, courts look at a variety of criteria, including:
- The standard of living enjoyed by the couple
- How long the marriage lasted
- The income and assets of each spouse, including retirement accounts
- The earning potential of each spouse
- How long would it take to retrain the non-working spouse
- The age of each spouse at the end of the divorce
- How well the couple treated each other
4 Types of Alimony
Many people don't know that alimony payments may be temporary or permanent, and they can change during the divorce process and over time. Alimony can be structured in a few ways.
What is Temporary Alimony?
Temporary alimony is generally designed to allow for the support and maintenance of one spouse while a divorce or separation action is pending. If spouses are living in separate homes during this period, temporary alimony might be intended to help preserve assets, such as home equity, or to protect credit. Failure to pay liabilities like mortgages, loans, and credit card debt will very likely impact a person's credit score.
For example, temporary alimony may apply to a situation in which the husband makes all of the income and the wife stays at home with the kids. If the husband moves out, the wife will need money to pay the bills and take care of the kids. The husband would pay temporary alimony to the wife while the divorce is happening.
It's important to keep in mind the practical challenges with taking a family revenue stream accustomed to supporting a single household and making it stretch to support two households.
If your spouse is unwilling to provide financial support on a temporary basis, you may need to request a temporary hearing in order to secure your immediate financial well-being and protect your financial interests and credit.
What is the Process for Receiving Temporary Alimony?
With your attorney, you need to address temporary alimony at your temporary hearing. To do that, you need to request a temporary hearing. Otherwise, you will not be able to deal with issues of child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, debts and possession of real and personal property on a temporary basis while you're going through the divorce process.
Your temporary alimony will be included in the temporary order issued by the judge—and that temporary alimony will apply until the time of your final trial or until modified by a subsequent Court Order. Typically, the amount of your temporary alimony will be the same as your final alimony unless significant change takes place in mediation or the settlement process.
Many people do not know about temporary alimony. It's important to meet with us to discuss this option to see if it helps you.
In rare cases, judges may determine that a spouse deserves permanent alimony. That means that payments are made to the other spouse that last as long as the person paying or the person getting paid is alive or remarries.
Permanent alimony doesn't have to come in the way of cash payments but may also take the form of use, ownership, or possession of real, personal, or intangible property owned by the other spouse.
Permanent alimony is rare. The primary reason it may be awarded is when there is a near impossibility of your spouse supporting themselves after you divorce. Some reasons may include:
- Serious or chronic illness. An illness may prevent your spouse from earning a living, and they would need your help for living and medical expenses.
- Serious disability. Similar to an illness, you may need to pay alimony for life if a disability such as blindness, an injury from an accident, or mental illness prevents your spouse from earning a living and paying for their expenses.
- Advanced age or nearing end of life. The chance of paying permanent alimony increases if your spouse is near or past retirement age because they will likely not find a means of fully supporting themselves so late in life.
- The end of a very long marriage. If you and your spouse were married for let’s say over 25 years, there is a higher chance of paying permanent alimony. That’s because your spouse has built much of their life around yours, and judges still often view a divorce after such a long marriage as financially devastating for non-income earning spouses.
- Any other scenario in which your spouse has no chance of employment or earning money to pay expenses.
If the above situations don’t apply to you, then it’s likely you will not pay alimony for life. Let’s dig into further detail why.
Periodic alimony is a form of permanent alimony usually paid in installments over time. The word 'permanent' can be deceptive, in that it does not necessarily mean 'forever.' Periodic alimony is usually set for a definite period of time, although the amount of the installment payments may vary.
- One spouse may receive periodic alimony of $2,000 per month for five years; or
- One spouse may receive $5,000 per month for two years, and then $2,500 per month for three years.
This form of alimony may be desirable if the recipient spouse wishes to have a 'regular' income stream or if the paying spouse wishes to be able to pay over time rather than in a single, larger payment. Periodic alimony also affords certain tax benefits and can contemplate the possibility of change over time.
Periodic alimony is usually tax-deductible to the paying spouse and reportable as income for the recipient spouse. It is also usually subject to end prior to payment in full should the recipient spouse die or get remarried. This form of alimony can be subject to future modifications as to the amount of payments, but not as to the duration.
Alimony & Spousal Support Modifications
While financial agreements (such as property division) are impossible to change after a divorce, courts will usually be open to changing alimony and other forms of spousal support if circumstances require it. For individuals paying or receiving periodic alimony, modifications may be possible but are difficult.
A modification to alimony may be granted in the following circumstances.
A substantial change in income or financial status.
Check with your attorney and state law about what constitutes a “substantial” change, but know that you can’t alter any payments because of standard cost of living increases or small changes in income or financial status (like getting a 2% raise or losing a small sum of money in the stock market). Substantial change means major life events like losing a job, a sharp increase in medical expenses, or a disability that affects your income.
Substantial changes in income work the other way too. A significant increase in income from a raise, a new job, or a booming business may also impact alimony and child support payments. A court will need to see proof of this substantial change in income or financial status, and your family law attorney can help you collect that proof. That means if you’ve experienced a significant financial hit or if your ex-spouse suddenly gained access to more income, you may be able to modify any existing alimony agreements in a way that benefits you.
You or your ex-spouse cohabitate with someone else.
One clear way that alimony payments and even child custody gets modified is when cohabitation begins. A major reason that alimony exists is because a spouse presumably needs financial support because they are now on their own. Living with someone else who brings in an additional paycheck largely negates many of the reasons that established the original alimony payments. If your ex-spouse starts living with someone else, that’s a major opportunity for you to lower your alimony payments. And know that if you start living with someone, your ex-spouse may justifiably seek to lower the amount of payments they send you.
Children graduate from school, get married, or move out of state.
Once a child moves out of the home, the primary custodial parent will naturally experience a change in lifestyle. After becoming an "empty nester," the spouse receiving alimony or child support will no longer have the burden of paying the additional expenses an extra body in the home requires. Depending on the amount of support being awarded, the spouse may still require alimony to support themselves, but a modification may be in order due to their change in lifestyle.
You need to remain vigilant about changes in your ex-spouse’s life so that you’re not paying more than your fair share, especially if your ex-spouse makes a lot more money or has a new significant other adding to the household income. If any significant changes take place in your life or your ex-spouse’s life that you think may present an opportunity to modify an agreement, call us for a consultation.
Alimony & Spousal Support FAQ
What is Alimony or Spousal Support?
Alimony, which is also often called spousal support, is money that is paid from one spouse to another after a divorce is final. This is typically awarded due to a significant discrepancy in the incomes of the spouses. It may also be awarded to a spouse who has stayed at home with children instead of pursuing a career. If one spouse has custody of the children, though, alimony is not affected by that status, as custody is not part of the alimony calculation in Georgia.
Is there a Difference Between Spousal Support and Alimony?
There is technically no difference between spousal support and alimony in Georgia, as the two terms are used interchangeably. Some people prefer one over the other, but they will mean the same thing when it comes to how the money is awarded and what is considered in the process.
How is Alimony Calculated?
Alimony is calculated by the courts, based on the income of both spouses. However, there are often extenuating circumstances that are also considered. These can include issues such as marital fault and standard of living. If one party to the divorce is considered to be at fault, the amount of alimony they may be asked to pay could be higher. Additionally, if the divorce will significantly change the standard of living for one spouse, the other spouse's alimony payment may be increased to reflect a standard closer to what that spouse had during the marriage.
How Does One Receive Alimony Payments?
To receive alimony, a court must order it. In many cases, a divorce does not include alimony. However, this is decided on a case-by-case basis in the state of Georgia, so it is possible for any divorcing couple to have alimony requirements as part of the end of their marriage. Most commonly, though, higher-income earners or spouses where one has worked and the other has stayed home, as well as those who have been married for a number of years, are the ones who typically have alimony as part of their divorce.
How Long Does Alimony Last?
A judge will determine how long the alimony will be paid for. In some cases, the alimony may be permanent. There are also formulas sometimes used, such as one year of alimony for every three years of marriage. The receiving spouse getting remarried or cohabitating often ends alimony, as well, but that is not the case for every divorcing couple.
Is Alimony Required by the State?
Unlike child support, no State requirements for spousal support awards in divorce exist.
How Is Alimony Enforced?
If granted, alimony is enforceable by either an action for contempt or by garnishment and execution on property.
Will I Have to Pay Alimony Forever?
Generally speaking, no. Most spouses who pay spousal support are not required to do so indefinitely, with the exception of rare cases wherein the other spouse has no means to support themselves and does not remarry.
Additionally, even in cases where a spouse is unable to support themselves in any capacity, you may only pay temporary, rehabilitative alimony to give your spouse enough time to get on their feet. That means your spouse cannot expect to receive this alimony forever. alimony laws changed to prevent spouses from just collecting money and not attempting to find work at all. In fact, if your ex-spouse doesn’t attempt to find work, the temporary alimony period may just run out or you can have a vocational expert analyze their capacity for finding work in the hopes of modifying or ending your payments. A court will expect that your spouse makes “reasonable efforts” to find work and build up their skills.
Find an Alimony Attorney Near You
In Georgia, alimony is not guaranteed and the process is somewhat complex. That's why it's important for our Atlanta-based attorneys to work on your behalf to maximize your chances of achieving your alimony goals.
Whether you are seeking alimony in your divorce or opposing it, an experienced divorce lawyer at Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor can assist you. Call our offices at 678-971-3413 or contact us online.
If the court has already issued an alimony decision, don't worry. We can also help guide you through the appeals process.