Fostering Independence: The Move Away From Permanent Alimony
March 16, 2015
While permanent alimony payments were once common in days when men were breadwinners and women were homemakers, this balance has since shifted into one that focuses on developing self-sufficiency instead of providing endless support. In this century, temporary maintenance or no award is more common than a permanent allowance.
These are the factors that determine alimony in a divorce. Reviewing them shows the modern standard prefers fostering independence rather than preserving lifestyle expectations.
General Alimony Considerations
Alimony laws differ between states. Courts consider some common elements and they include:
Age, education, financial condition, and physical and emotion states of the former spouses;
Time needed for the recipient to gain the skills or education to become self-sufficient;
Standard of living during the marriage;
Length of the marriage; and
Ability of a spouse to pay alimony.
Generally, if the combined income of the former spouses is less than $65,000, there is little chance of an alimony award. The issue normally comes up when one spouse's financial situation is vastly superior to the other—for example, one spouse earns $156,000 per year while the other only pulls $25,000.
Typical Alimony Awards
Short marriages with both parties employed do not normally result in alimony judgments. One exception may include one spouse facing unemployment and requiring support for specific needs while job searching. This is kept on a short timeline, around six months.
Marriages within five to seven years, and minor children, may result in alimony awards as additional income beyond child support. This is especially true if the ages of the children keep the custodial parent out of the workforce or make child care an expensive or challenging endeavor. Awards are often set on a temporary schedule that ends when the youngest child starts school.
Longer marriages mean longer alimony terms. The most common is a step-down schedule where payments slowly reduce to zero. Its purpose is to help a spouse transition into an independent life.
The Rare Case of Permanent Alimony
Permanent alimony only arises under very specific circumstances. When looking back to traditional times: one spouse worked and the other raised children and maintained the home. Decades outside the workforce limit income opportunities—especially if it was a very long marriage and both parties are near retirement age. Most courts consider permanent alimony appropriate in this case.
A disabled former spouse may also receive alimony due to the same substantial reliance on the other income. Courts will award alimony as a moral choice to keep the disabled spouse out of poverty.
In any scenario, payments can be adjusted if circumstances change. Reduced income or new income sources can lead to a reduction or end to alimony payments. There are rarely payment increases unless the receiving spouse's needs change substantially.
Alimony is a tool to support financial recovery after a divorce and facilitate independence when possible. Permanent alimony is not preferred or frequently awarded. If you are concerned about alimony, the best step is to contact an attorney to see where your state laws fall on this issue.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net