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.
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’.
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
Courts may retain jurisdiction to modify the amount or duration of alimony (for example, in case of job loss or major illness) unless the parties agree that alimony will be non-modifiable. Frequently payors attempt to terminate or modify indefinite alimony when retirement reduces their income stream, and courts are resistant to relitigating issues that should have been determined at the time of the original alimony award.
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.