Alimony payments are those made by one divorced spouse to another either during the divorce process or after the divorce. It's sometimes referred to as a “spousal allowance” or “spousal maintenance.”
Where once alimony was the standard in divorce proceedings, with the husband required to pay the wife, that has changed. Women have not only increasingly entered the work force but in some cases have incomes that far exceed their spouses. Securing alimony payments requires very specific findings, and is usually temporary, applied to long-time married couples and usually limited to cases where one spouse earns significantly less than the other.
Recently, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals granted reversal of a trial court's order denying alimony, except for a $5,700 lump sum payment awarded to wife while divorce was pending.
The case, Ray v. Ray, involved disputed testimony at almost every turn. However, it is not the job of the appellate court to sort through the veracity of the facts. Rather, it determines fairness as a matter of law. In this case, regardless of the matters disputed, the trial court's finding was unfair, considering husband was the sole earner during the 25-year marriage and the trial court awarded all husband's retirement accounts to him and denied her any spousal support, despite her earning less than half of what he does. Further, although wife did not appeal on the basis of marital property division, the appellate court noted such a finding has to be weighed in light of whether to award alimony, and it did not appear the trial court did so.
According to court records, husband and wife were married in the 1980s and had two children, both of whom had reached adulthood by the time they sought a divorce. Virtually every fact in the case was disputed.
Wife alleged during their marriage, husband refused to allow her to work, even after the children grew older. He also refused to allow her to return to college, as he feared she would only attend to “meet guys.” She alleged he was physically and verbally abusive to her, had extramarital affairs (including one with his sister) and that he used crack-cocaine and would leave the family for weeks or months at a time on binges, during which he would not pay the bills and left her without a vehicle.
Husband, meanwhile, alleged it was the wife who was abusive, and in fact she had been arrested and convicted for one such incident. He argued the loss of his eye was due to her hitting him with a frying pan handle, though she argued it occurred when he fell down a flight of stairs, drunk, while she was not home. He insisted he wanted his wife to work, but that she refused. He stated he had previously struggled with substance abuse, but it was no longer an issue.
Trial court made various findings of fact regarding these allegations, but ultimately said both parties should keep their respective retirement accounts and the husband should pay a lump sum support payment, with no continuing Alabama spousal support. There was no marital home or other real property to divide.
The appellate court reversed and remanded, finding regardless of the disputed facts, the husband was the sole earner for 25 years of their union. That put wife at a unique financial disadvantage, and indeed, she only earned half of what he did and it was not enough to cover her expenses. Additionally, there was no evidence the wife even had her own retirement account, despite the court's order. Meanwhile, husband was earning twice as much and his income was $900 in excess of his expenses – $1,500 in excess when subtracting for a vehicle and insurance he paid for his sister, but which he did not use or drive.
Based on this alone, the appellate court determined the trial court needed to reconsider its allocation of money due each party.
Ray v. Ray, Feb. 20, 2015, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
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