Separating and divorcing spouses have to figure out how to start life over without the support of their husbands and wives. After all, if both spouses are wage-earners, divorce can mean losing a substantial portion of the household income. It’s even more frightening when a spouse has not worked in years, and must now return to an unfamiliar job market. Fortunately, Georgia law allows spouses to petition the court for spousal support, which is commonly referred to as alimony. E.N. Banks-Ware Law Firm, LLC, represents spouses on both sides of alimony cases, and our family law attorneys will fight for terms that are reasonable and fair to you.
What Is Spousal Support?
There are numerous misunderstandings that surround alimony. Spouses who are ordered to pay often view it as punishment or believe they will be forced to underwrite the other party’s expensive lifestyle. Those who are asking for it commonly believe it is subject to a formula, the way child support is calculated. Both are untrue.
It is improper for a court to use alimony solely to punish one spouse. Although marital conduct – and misconduct – will be considered by a court in deciding alimony, it is but one of several factors. Not to mention that marital conduct cuts both ways. If the other spouse accuses you of ending the marriage, you can do the same.
Similarly, an award of alimony is not designed to compel a spouse to fund the other party’s lavish way of life. Rather, the goal of alimony is to ensure that both spouses can economically support themselves after divorce. A proper award of alimony balances one spouse’s needs with the other spouse’s ability to pay. There are guidelines the court has to consider, but awards vary from one case to the next.
Lastly, alimony is only available to married spouses who are divorcing. If you are not married or you are cohabiting with a partner, you will not be entitled to it.
How Does a Court Determine Spousal Support?
Both the receiving spouse and the paying spouse must submit financial disclosures to court. These disclosures provide critical details about the parties’ financial standing; that is, the receiving spouse’s needs and the paying spouse’s ability to provide support. Some of the information that may be disclosed to court includes:
Income and expenses Both spouses are entitled to know each other’s income as well as what they both routinely spend. Paying spouses will want to be aware of the receiving spouse’s spending habits. Receiving spouses will want an accurate picture of the other spouse’s income.
Assets and debts This includes bank accounts, real property, consumer debt, and more. Both should know what the other has, what it is worth, and what is owed.
Bonuses and other benefits If one spouse receives bonuses, a court needs to factor this into an alimony award. Spouses typically argue over how much and how frequent bonuses are, since they are not part of standard compensation. Other benefits count, as well, in painting a comprehensive financial picture. These include stock options, health insurance, and even company vehicles.
By statute, the court is required to consider these factors in making its alimony decision:
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- The duration of the marriage
- The age and physical and emotional conditions of both parties
- Each party’s financial resources
- As applicable, the time it takes for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to find appropriate employment
- The contributions of each party to the marriage, such as homemaking, childcare, education, and contributions to the other spouse’s career
- The condition of the parties, including the separate estate, earning capacity, and fixed liabilities of both
- Any other relevant factors
The court may order a lump sum or periodic payments of alimony.
Is Alimony Temporary Or Permanent?
Temporary alimony may be ordered while the divorce is proceeding. A spouse who has no means of support or is in dire financial need should seriously consider requesting this. Payments can be ordered as frequently as the judge sees fit, whether weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or otherwise.
Once the divorce is granted, the judge may order permanent alimony. But the word “permanent” is misleading. The intent of alimony is to help a dependent spouse get back on his or her feet following a divorce. In most cases, alimony will only be ordered for a certain period of time.
Can Alimony Be Modified Or Terminated?
Alimony orders usually specify an end date, but requests to modify or terminate the obligation can be made before then. Generally, a party cannot ask the court to modify or terminate alimony until at least two years have passed from the date of the order.
A person requesting a modification or termination must also demonstrate a significant change in circumstances since the prior order. Lump sum alimony payments are not modifiable or subject to termination. Only periodic alimony can be changed.
One of the more common reasons to request a modification is that either party has experienced a change in income. Cohabitation can also support a request to modify. But cohabitation does not require a judge to terminate alimony, only to change it. A spouse requesting a modification on this basis must also meet the legal definition of cohabitation. In Georgia, it means dwelling continuously and openly in a romantic relationship with someone else.
Two factors that will terminate alimony are the death of either spouse or remarriage of the receiving spouse. But if the alimony was either lump sum or meant to constitute a property settlement with the other spouse, it may be collected from the estate of the deceased spouse.
Contact Our Lithonia Spousal Support Attorney
Whether you are seeking alimony or it is being requested of you, let us help. We understand the financial challenges that alimony poses to both paying and receiving spouses, and will work towards an outcome that is in your best interests. Contact E.N. Banks-Ware Law Firm, LLC, today to set up your consultation.