There was a time not long ago when alimony, also known as spousal support, was awarded in almost every Alabama divorce case. This had largely to do with inherent income disparities along gender lines. Almost always, the husband was the “breadwinner” while the wife cared for home and family.
Today, however, women's presence in the workforce has never been stronger. U.S. Census figures show it's grown from 30 million in 1970 to 73 million in 2010. Women comprise 47 percent of the labor force, and a third earn higher incomes than their spouses.
Birmingham Divorce Attorney Steven Eversole knows that while alimony is still a central part of many marital dissolution cases, spouses who request it often must fight for it. Alabama courts no longer operate on the assumption that it's necessary. Instead, those who seek it must show it's warranted.
Typically, that proof will depend on:
- 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.
What Is Alimony?
Alimony is a set amount of money one spouse has to pay the other following a divorce in order to meet the needs of the disadvantaged/dependent spouse. These support payments, also referred to as “maintenance,” allow the dependent spouse to become self-supporting.
The payments also allow the less affluent spouse to continue to enjoy a certain standard of living.
The general idea is to substitute support that would have been regularly provided by the wealthier spouse to the other during the marriage. It is not intended to be a lifelong pension plan. In fact, it is rarely awarded on a permanent basis.
Long-term awards of alimony are typically reserved for couples who have been married a long time or are elderly or disabled, thus rendering them unable to earn a livable wage.
Types of Alimony
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.
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.