Alimony & Spousal Support

While married, most couples share alike in the family income, regardless of who earns more. Some couples agree that one spouse will interrupt his or her career for child rearing to enable the higher-earning spouse to be the ‘breadwinner,’ yet divorce disrupts such arrangements. Alimony is intended to protect a dependent spouse from suffering undue financial hardship because of divorce.

Rehabilitative Alimony

To assist the dependent spouse in becoming self-supporting after divorce, courts can require (or parties can agree) that the higher-earning spouse pay Rehabilitative Alimony to the dependent spouse for a limited period to support household, educational and/or vocational development expenses. Courts will impute earning capacity to the dependent spouse who has not worked at all, or who is not working to capacity (for example, working part-time or an unremunerative ‘hobby job’) known as ‘voluntary impoverishment’.

Indefinite Alimony

Despite the judicial preference for Rehabilitative Alimony, Indefinite Alimony may be awarded where a party due to advanced age, illness, infirmity or disability cannot be expected to make substantial progress toward self-support, or even after making substantial progress the dependent spouse will suffer an ‘unconscionable disparity’ in his or her standard of living relative to the breadwinner. Such an award depends upon financial projections of the parties’ respective future earned incomes, as well as income from social security, pension, investment and retirement accounts. Typically, expert financial witnesses conduct comprehensive financial projections upon which judges and negotiating parties rely.

Modification of Alimony

Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, alimony may be modified by a court upon a finding of a material change of circumstances – for example, the payor’s retirement, or a serious decline in either party’s health. Where retirement is relatively near a negotiated ‘step-down’ upon retirement may ensure the payor that he or she will be able to retire and that the dependent spouse will still be able to meet his or her expenses.

Termination of Alimony

Alimony terminates upon the death of either party, remarriage of the recipient, and may terminate by agreement if the recipient cohabitates with an unmarried ‘partner’ equivalent to marriage.