How Do Courts Make Determinations About Alimony?
Alimony can be a contentious issue in divorce proceedings. Contrary to popular belief, courts do usually not split anyone’s income right down the middle as a general approach to awarding alimony. Also, alimony orders generally do not continue indefinitely. Every jurisdiction applies different laws to determine alimony, and they may vary significantly from state to state. However, there are a few nearly universal principles that courts tend to consider when deciding if people are eligible for alimony, how much they need, and the length of time that they should receive it.
The Length of a Marriage
In general, a court is more likely to award alimony if a couple is divorcing after a long marriage. If a couple was not married for very long, they are unlikely to be very financially dependent on one another. In contrast, a marriage that has lasted for many years or even decades is more likely to involve financial dependency.
In reviewing a petition for spousal support, a court will look at whether a petitioner has substantial assets. High-value assets that a petitioner owns independently or an award of valuable assets from the distribution of marital property could offset the need for alimony.
One of the most important factors in awarding alimony is the respective earning capacity of both parties. A person who has significantly less ability to generate income than his or her spouse is more likely to need alimony to make a transition into living separately. This is particularly true when someone has decided to forgo the opportunity to pursue educational or professional advancement to focus on things that benefit the marriage such as raising children. A court may attempt to gage how long it will take a person to enhance his or her earning power in deciding how long financial support should last.
The Standard of Living During a Marriage
The way that a couple was able to spend money could be a factor in an alimony award. Some jurisdictions give a lot of deference to the standard of living that a couple enjoyed during the marriage, and others consider only whether a person would have to contend with an extreme depreciation in his or her standard of living. A professional family lawyer can guide with the different jurisdictions’ expectations.
People who are divorcing should be aware that there is no single formula that courts use to calculate alimony. Courts recognize that each couple’s situation is different, and they will use their best efforts to arrive at a fair and equitable determination. For more information, contact your local divorce lawyer.