The dissolution of a marriage has a significant impact on the financial circumstances of both spouses. Legal fees, the division of jointly owned assets, and the loss of a dual income can make life more difficult for both parties. When couples do not earn an equal income, the lesser-earning spouse can experience much more hardship after a divorce. In many such cases, a judge will require one spouse to pay alimony to the other, either in a lump sum or over time.
In the state of Alabama, alimony—also known as spousal support—is awarded at the court’s discretion and only in certain circumstances. Because the purpose of alimony is to assist a spouse who will suffer financially from divorce, alimony is most often awarded when one spouse earns significantly less than the other. For example, judges are likely to award alimony if one partner has stayed out of the workforce to raise children.
Traditionally, men have paid alimony to ex-wives because men have tended to earned more than women. Nowadays, however, it is increasingly common for women to pay alimony to their exes. As the number of single-income families has decreased over the years, alimony awards are somewhat less common than in the past. However, there are still many circumstances that can qualify a person to receive alimony.
Alimony has often been portrayed in the movies as an ongoing—and unending—series of payments to an ex-spouse, but in real life, spousal support can take various forms. Alabama judges can award several types of alimony: interim, rehabilitative, periodic, permanent, and lump sum.
Interim alimony refers to spousal support during the divorce process. As long as the marriage is valid, the court may order the higher-earning spouse to pay alimony until the divorce is final. The judge will consider both spouses’ financial circumstances, including the payer’s ability to pay and the recipient’s ability to become self-supporting.
Rehabilitative alimony refers to temporary spousal support. Judges award temporary alimony mainly to help the recipient re-enter the workforce and become financially independent. For example, one spouse may need to go back to school in order to get a better-paying job. In Alabama, rehabilitative alimony is generally limited to five years.
Periodic alimony is ongoing spousal support paid monthly, usually when the recipient has not been able to become self-supporting. This type of alimony can last longer than rehabilitative alimony, depending on factors like the length of the marriage or the financial circumstances of either party. In most cases, even periodic alimony is not indefinite.
A court may award permanent alimony when the marriage has lasted for a long time and when one spouse will not be able to earn an independent income. Permanent alimony ends when one of the parties dies, when the recipient remarries or the payer is no longer able to pay.
Finally, lump sum alimony, also known as alimony in gross, is a single payment rather than a series of monthly payments. The lump sum could be a cash payment made from an individual’s separate account, or it could result from the sale of property or other assets. Lump sum alimony is final after thirty days, meaning the amount is guaranteed.
Every case is unique, but judges look at a similar set of factors when awarding alimony. These include the length of the marriage, the couple’s standard of living, and the fault of either party.
The length of the marriage can determine how long periodic alimony will last. In general, alimony payments do not last longer than the marriage itself. For example, if a marriage lasted for five years, then the paying spouse would only pay alimony for five more years after the divorce. However, if the marriage lasted twenty years or more, a judge could award unlimited years of alimony.
A second consideration is the couple’s standard of living. Once there has been a fair division of shared assets, the judge will consider the standard of living that both partners maintained during the marriage. The longer the marriage, the more heavily a judge will weigh this factor.
Marital fault is another consideration in alimony awards in the state of Alabama. For example, if one partner was unfaithful or abusive to the other, the judge may require higher alimony payments as a form of punishment. A judge will also take into consideration unethical behavior on the part of either spouse, such as concealing or destroying property or assets.
Other considerations that can affect a judge’s decision about alimony include the age and health of both spouses, their future earning power, and their contributions to the marriage. The payer’s ability to pay is also a factor that judges consider. Many parents ask whether child support affects alimony. In Alabama, judges do not consider child support or custody arrangements when awarding alimony.
In most cases, courts order alimony for a fixed period, and payments expire on a specific date. However, the alimony payer can request a termination of alimony. For example, if the alimony recipient remarries, he or she is no longer eligible for alimony. Similarly, if the recipient has a significant positive change in income due to a new job or position or an inheritance, the payer can request a cancelation of alimony.
The alimony payer can also request a modification of the alimony due to changes in his or her ability to pay. If the payer suffers a loss of employment or acquires a disability, for example, he or she can file a request with the court to change the alimony amount or cancel it altogether.
In the state of Alabama, alimony awards are almost entirely up to the court. Because judges consider many factors when making decisions about alimony, there is no simple answer to the question, “Do I qualify for alimony?” The best way to find out is to schedule a divorce consultation with an Alabama attorney. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and your options.