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Divorce Confidential: Alimony -- Are You On The Hook?

11/13/2015 05:47 pm ET | Updated Nov 13, 2015
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Alimony. It's a hot button issue in divorce and something many individuals have a hard time dealing with after the breakup. It seems unfair, when one spouse is ordered to pay a hefty sum each month towards the daily living costs and lifestyle choices of their ex-spouse. These individuals are no longer connected, yet the financial obligation continues -- sometimes indefinitely. For many, a sense of relief and freedom is celebrated after the last and final alimony payment is made. Although unfortunate, alimony is a reality for most divorcing couples and cannot be avoided. So what do you need to know about alimony? Here are the basics and some tips on how to navigate this issue in your divorce:

1. How is Spousal Support Determined? There are several factors the courts will consider when ordering spousal support. Primarily, the court will look at both you and your spouse's gross monthly income. "Income" under California Family Code includes income from a wide variety of sources including commissions, salaries, royalties, wages, bonuses, dividends, and trust income among other things. Once gross income is determined for each spouse, the numbers are placed into an online support calculator that automatically generates the amount owed from one spouse to the other. The court will also look at the length of the marriage, which will determine the time a spouse is on the hook for alimony. In California the duration of marriage is tied to the duration of the spousal support obligation. If a marriage is less than 10 years, spousal support will not be ordered for longer than half the length of the marriage. If a marriage is over 10 years, a spouse may be required to pay alimony to an ex-spouse for an extended period -- sometimes an indefinite period -- of time. Speak to an attorney licensed in your state or country to determine how spousal support is determined and your exposure to this potential obligation.

2. Other Factors Considered By Courts: In ordering spousal support, the court may look at other factors like the standard of living during the marriage, the ability of the paying spouse to contribute to alimony and the supported spouse's capacity to earn money. Your age and health are also factors in alimony payments. If there is a history of domestic violence or criminal conviction, this will also be an important factor in whether spousal support is ordered by the court; if a spouse has been found to be a domestic violence perpetrator, it is unlikely s/he can then ask for alimony payments from the victim spouse. If you and your ex are on good terms and both agree to terms and conditions for alimony payments, then you may memorialize it in a written agreement. For example, if you have the ability to propose a buy-out for spousal support, that may be an option to avoid ongoing monthly payments to your ex.

3. Should You Refuse Alimony? One benefit of refusing alimony is the ability to cut ties with an ex and move forward with a clean slate. Others refuse alimony because they can support themselves. Some individuals feel that alimony is offensive to the modern adult. But whether you forego alimony is a personal decision. You may not have the option to forego alimony if you have not been employed for an extended period and it would be difficult for you to enter the workforce. If you receive alimony and have not worked for some time but would like to experience the challenges and successes of a career, you may want to use this opportunity to explore options and work towards entering back into the workforce. If you can work, a court may even require you to enter the workforce based on prior work experience, skill, and education.

This is only a quick summary of some issues related to spousal support; many other layers are associated with alimony in divorce. For example, if you are divorced and cohabitating with someone new and plan to get remarried, this may affect alimony payments. In California, if you remarry, alimony will cease. Keep in mind, if you are supporting an ex-spouse and your income reduces drastically to where you can't keep up with alimony payments, this is something to discuss with your attorney without delay. As with all legal aspects of a divorce, you should always make sure you are well-informed before making a decision or going to court.

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