Your marriage is in shambles, the house needs repairs, the kids need new school shoes, and the car just broke down. Now your husband tells you he wants alimony. Seriously, you are the main bread winner because he cannot or will not work, you are barely keeping your head above water and you are living pay-check to pay-check, and now this.
Alimony, or maintenance payments are intended to level the financial playing field as it were. Despite the perception of the paying party, such payments are not intended to punish the payer, but to allow the receiving party to support themselves. Prior to awarding alimony, there are several factors the courts must consider including, but not limited to the length of the marriage, the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, the contributions made by each spouse to the marriage, for example, salary/income or other financial contribution, child care, keeping the family home, and assisting a spouse with their education, career, or building a business.
There are diverse types of alimony which can be awarded, and for different purposes. Alimony may be permanent or temporary, and there may be conditions associated with the alimony, such as the alimony may cease in the event the receiving spouse remarries or enters a supportive relationship. The most significant factors considered for an award of alimony are the need of the party requesting support, and the ability of the other party to pay.
So here are situations we hear from our clients … “he quit his job so he won’t have to pay me alimony”; “he says he will quit his job so he doesn’t have to pay me alimony”; “he refuses to get a job.” Each set of circumstances is different but the question remains the same, does he have the need for alimony to support himself, and do you have the ability to pay him alimony.
If the soon to be former spouse is voluntarily unemployed, or under employed, the court will impute income to him. The court will assume he has a certain amount of income, even if he does not. So, if the brain surgeon decides he is going to change tires so that he does not have to pay alimony, the court will treat his financial situation as if he were making the additional income of the brain surgeon. He cannot escape his responsibility just by running away from his job.
Now if the soon to be former spouse has never worked, or has limited money making capabilities a vocational evaluation may be necessary to determine just what his earning capacity might be. The same may be required if he has an impairment on his ability to work, or if he was “stay-at-home” parent by agreement.
Whatever the situation of the alimony requesting party is, the court will not award alimony until an assessment of the other party’s ability to pay has been made. So, let’s take our brain surgeon/tire changer – even if no income is imputed to him, if you are not earning enough income to meet your own needs, or if you are living pay check to pay check and there is simply no money to award, then the court will not bankrupt you. Courts have been known to award nominal amounts of alimony as low as one dollar!
Alimony is frequently a contentious issue, and often involves heightened emotions and complex financial analysis. If you are facing a situation involving alimony or other support issues, please come and speak with us. We have the knowledge, experience and resources to help you through this additional challenge in your life.