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Alimony And Spousal Support: Balancing The Scales After A Divorce

After a divorce, one partner can seek alimony from the other (that is, in short, financial support). This is not to be confused with temporary support (or Pendente Lite) that a spouse can seek DURING the divorce proceeding, even if no children are involved. The whole purpose of such spousal support is to ensure the economic stability of the partner left in dire straits as a result of the separation. Here at Alabama Divorce & Family Lawyers, LLC, we aggressively defend the rights of clients in the surrounding areas (such as Shelby, Jefferson, and Madison counties, to name a few), as well as throughout the whole state of Alabama.

Our objective is not just to guide you through the divorce process, but also to ensure you come out the other side with some measure of financial security. That is why we take such an aggressive stance on the issue of alimony and spousal support; we’re veterans of countless divorce cases, but that hasn’t left us so jaded as to think the outcome of such cases cannot when all is said and done, still be fair.

How Does The Court Determine The Amount Of Alimony?

There is no single answer to this question. The court takes into account several factors. However, two obvious but fundamental questions rest at the heart of the matter. First, how much does the party seeking alimony need, within reason? Second, what capacity does the party ordered to pay alimony have to meet those needs (in other words, income, expenses, etc.)? You may be surprised to know the court can also consider such variables as the age, gender, and health of the two spouses, the duration of the marriage, and whether or not there was any misconduct by one of the spouses during the marriage.

Factors that influence alimony are:

  • How long the marriage was
  • Each individual’s wage potential
  • Health and age of each spouse
  • Type of property the couple shares and its value
  • Conduct of both parties (misconduct such as adultery by requesting spouse may reduce or eliminate an alimony award)
  • Contributions to the other spouse’s education, training or increased earning power
  • Any other factors that may be deemed relevant

These are not all the factors the court will consider, but rather an example of some of the most commonly weighed.

Even when alimony is granted, awards are usually not permanent, but rather a set period of time. There is no legal right to alimony. Instead, the requesting spouse must show he or she qualifies for the support.

Types of Alimony in Alabama

There are four basic kinds of alimony:

  • Pendente lite alimony. This is temporary spousal support the court will order one spouse to pay in the time between when the divorce is filed and when it becomes final.
  • Rehabilitative support. This is alimony that is usually awarded for the purpose of helping one spouse get back on his or her feet after a divorce. Most of the time, these payments will only last between 1 and 5 years, or when the receiving spouse remarries or begins living with another romantic partner. Those spouses that have less earning capacity, not as much education, fewer skills and business opportunities usually will receive spousal maintenance at least for some period of time.
  • Reimbursement alimony. This is essentially repayment for contributions made during the union. A prime example would be a spouse who worked to support the family while the other spouse attended medical school. Reimbursement alimony would be compensation for that sacrifice, and may include a share of the doctor’s future earnings.
  • Permanent alimony. This is an award of alimony that is paid until remarriage or death of receiving spouse. It is generally only awarded if the receiving spouse is elderly or disabled. In some cases, courts will set a periodic review of permanent alimony cases to ensure the circumstances haven’t materially changed.

Alimony can be paid one of two ways: Through a lump sum payment, or via periodic installments. Lump sum payments are a one-time transfer of funds from one spouse to another that serves to fulfill any future support obligation. Alternately, periodic installments could be made monthly, quarterly or annually.

It’s worth pointing out that if the paying spouse dies, his or her new spouse and/or estate is not responsible for continuing payment of alimony. An award of alimony ends with the death of either former spouse.

How Is Alimony Or Spousal Support Enforced In Alabama?

The court does not monitor the compliance of its alimony order, but it will intervene if asked to do so by one of the parties involved. Failure to comply with an alimony order can result in a wide range of civil or criminal penalties ranging from garnished wages to fines, a bench warrant for the person’s arrest, and even jail time.

Can You Change An Alimony Order After A Divorce?

Yes, but the court must first find that material circumstances have changed enough to warrant such an alteration to the alimony order. There are many factors that go into this determination, and if you are interested in pursuing a modification to an alimony or spousal support order, you can learn more about the process and how we can help by contacting us for a free initial consultation.

Modification or Termination of Alimony

Most alimony payments are not permanent. However, even temporary orders can be modified or terminated by the court upon either request or certain circumstances.

Ala. Code Section 30-2-55 allows for the automatic termination of periodic alimony payments when there is proof the receiving party has either remarried or is living openly or cohabitating with another person with whom you are involved in a sexual relationship. The spouse seeking termination of these obligations must provide proof of this fact.

Beyond that, courts have discretion increase, reduce or terminate alimony based on a request by one party. Some grounds on which Alabama courts have ruled modification or termination of support was warranted:

  • Medical illness or disability. The paying spouse is no longer able to work to continue making those payments.
  • Reduced pay or unemployment. It’s worth noting voluntary unemployment or underemployment will not be grounds for a reduction of payments.
  • Windfall or improved work situation. If the receiving spouse inherits or is awarded a financial “windfall,” this may be grounds for reduced payments. Winning the lottery would be one example. However, a personal injury settlement likely would not.

Whether you are seeking alimony payments, looking to avoid them or hoping to modify them, our experienced legal team will help to carefully research your case and work to represent your best interests.

Contact Alabama Divorce & Family Lawyers, LLC at (205) 255-1155.