Alimony is a court order that requires one spouse to pay the other a certain sum of money on a regular basis. In any divorce, disputes concerning alimony can become especially contentious because each spouse is concerned about how whether or not it is ordered will impact their post-divorce finances.
People have a lot of questions when it comes to alimony, but we at Nelson, Taylor & Associates PLLC have heard quite a few commonly come up over the years. In this article, we’ll address some of the frequently asked questions we’ve heard about alimony so you can have the information you need to know whether or not it’s time to consult with an attorney.
What Is the Purpose of Alimony?
Alimony may feel like a punishment to those who have to pay it, but it’s anything but punitive. The purpose of alimony is to help both spouses maintain the marital standard of living to which they grew accustomed. To do this, the spouse who earned more money will need to make payments to the spouse who earned much less or no income at all.
Essentially, it’s the court’s way of ensuring that someone who turned their focus to domestic issues (like homemaking and raising children) over their career won’t unduly struggle financially after divorce.
How Is the Marital Standard of Living Determined?
Determining the marital standard of living is often the first issue that must be addressed when it comes to figuring out how much alimony should be ordered. Judges will look at the marital standard of living by evaluating the couple’s income, budget, and expenses at the time of separation. This means that even if the spouses once lived luxuriously, that lifestyle may not be taken into account if they downsized in more recent years.
Are Only Women Awarded Alimony?
No. A common misconception is that only women can receive alimony from their ex-spouses. This misconception has grown out of societal norms in which men in heterosexual relationships are the higher earners in their household, while their wives either earn less income or none at all.
In fact, the courts can’t take someone’s sex into account when determining alimony. Deciding whether or not to award it should be entirely a function of maintaining the lesser-earning spouse’s way of life, regardless of their sex.
Is There a Limit on How Much Alimony Can Cost?
Statutorily, there is no limit to how much alimony can cost. Divorce law in Utah provides that the maximum amount of alimony that can be awarded to a recipient is his or her “demonstrated need,” which is weighed against that of the supporting spouse.
This means that alimony can cost however much the receiving spouse can effectively argue is needed. It’s possible for judges – under certain circumstances – to order alimony payments that exceed the paying spouse’s disposable income.
How Long Can Alimony Last?
The law prohibits alimony orders that last longer than the length of the marriage. A judge can also order temporary alimony to be paid while a divorce is pending and terminates upon the finalization of the divorce.
Can Alimony Be Modified?
Unless a judge ordered that support can’t be modified, either spouse can petition the court to review and modify alimony. Typically, a considerable circumstance must be present to warrant a modification. Such circumstances can include the paying spouse becoming unemployed or disabled and earning much less than the original order accounted for.
How Does Alimony Affect Taxes?
It used to be that those who pay alimony could deduct their payments from their taxes and those who received must pay taxes on it. With the changes to federal tax laws in 2019, however, the tax deduction benefit and reporting requirement are both scrapped.
How Does Alimony End?
Alimony automatically terminates when the receiving spouse gets remarried or either spouse dies. Alimony can also end when the recipient begins cohabiting with another individual after the issuance of alimony, but the paying spouse must petition the court and prove the cohabitation is occurring to terminate alimony.
If someone found out an ex-spouse is cohabitating with someone else, they have one year from the date they discovered the cohabitation – or should have known about it – to file the alimony termination petition. After one year, it may not be possible to seek relief.
How Is Alimony Enforced?
When a spouse ordered to pay alimony fails to do so, the receiving spouse can file a motion with the court to enforce the alimony order. The court may issue a judgement that can find the former in contempt of court and order them to pay a fine and/or serve jail time.
Does Alimony Debt Ever Go away?
Past-due alimony doesn’t go away. This means someone who should have received alimony, but never did, can pursue payment until it is provided. Past-due alimony can also be sought whether or not the original alimony order is still in effect.
As a debt, past-due alimony probably can’t be discharged through bankruptcy. There are rare circumstances in which a divorce decree may indebt one spouse to the other and refer to it as alimony, but the debt may not actually be alimony. In such a situation, the debt could be discharged if it can be proven that it is not alimony.