As a divorced woman, who was married for more than twenty years, the issue of spousal support is very near and dear to my heart. I worked very hard at home, and sacrificed my education, to help my ex-husband succeed at his job. While laws vary from state to state, here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re considering a divorce.
Length of the Marriage
Today’s divorce rate is compounded by the issue of short marriages. I regularly see divorce announcement s in my local paper for marriages that lasted less than three years, or even one year. Some are measured in months. In this case, the courts are very unlikely to award any spousal support at all, however, it never hurts to ask. Just don’t count on it.
On the other hand, if the marriage is of “long duration” (roughly 7 years or more depending on the state), then the courts will take into account whether either party is entitled to spousal support. In Utah, the court can award spousal support for a period equal to the length of the marriage, but no longer than the duration of the marriage. In my case, I am entitled to alimony for twenty-two years.
Earning Capacity of Both Parties
Does your soon-to-be Ex make a lot of money? Did you put off college to raise a family? This is precisely the situation that spousal support is meant to address. In my case, my ex earned a considerable income that required overtime on a regular basis and several overnight shifts per week. If I hadn’t sacrificed promotions at work to stay home with our children, he couldn’t have advanced in his position or earned the money he did.
If both parties are living on minimum wage, the courts are less likely to award spousal support. If one party earns significantly more than the other, especially if the lower-waged partner’s actions facilitated the earnings, spousal support is warranted.
Most spousal support laws will end when the party receiving the spousal support remarries or cohabitates. (This does not mean that you have a roommate. It means that you’re living as though married, in an intimate relationship with another party.)
In the case of my divorce, I found the cohabitation issue to be rather unfair. My ex-husband was living with a woman who received child support from another, and he had added his own income to the family unit. He benefitted from cohabitation. I, however, would be penalized if I were to cohabitate, to the extent that if the relationship failed, I was out of luck, and out of alimony.
I negotiated. Instead of cohabitation cancelling my rights to spousal support, my cohabitation only suspends the funds. The trade off? I will only receive alimony for a period of ten years, vs. the twenty to which I am entitled. However, if a situation develops where I am no longer sharing expenses with my partner, I will get my spousal support back.
My ex-husband was fine with this arrangement, as he is playing the odds that before the ten years expire, I will have remarried or entered into a long-term relationship. This is not a normal arrangement and one cannot insist upon it, as the courts will likely not agree unless both parties agree.
Points to Remember
Spousal support has nothing to do with child support. Even if you’re only married for one year, if there is a child of the union, child support still applies.
Each state has their own laws about spousal support. Always consult the laws in your state and I highly recommend an attorney during the entire process.
More from this contributor:
Three Worst Ways to Borrow Money on a Budget
Is She Too Young For a Checking Account?
First Person: Going Green, Saving Money