Alimony Q and A: Everything You Need to Know

Alimony can be confusing, but if you are getting divorced it is an important concept to understand. Whether you end up paying or receiving alimony, it will significantly impact your finances for years or even decades to come. Also referred to as spousal support, alimony may play a significant role in your divorce negotiations, settlement, and post-divorce life.

What is alimony?

It is financial support paid from one spouse to the other in cases of separation or divorce. The court can order one party in a divorce to pay the other party a set amount, usually in the form of monthly payments. This financial support may happen during separation, the process of the divorcing, or after the divorce is final.

Who can receive alimony?

Either party in a divorce may request alimony. In many cases, both spouses will make the request, and the court will determine who should receive financial support. Both husbands and wives can receive spousal support.

How are alimony recipients and amounts decided?

If the divorcing parties can come to an agreement on the terms of their divorce, they can decide what is fair. If not, the court will make that determination.

These are the factors the court will consider when deciding whether to award alimony and how much to grant:

  • The financial condition of both parties – The court will consider factors such as debts and other financial obligations for you and your spouse.
  • Each party’s ability to earn income in the future – Employment history, health as it pertains to the ability to work, and income received from all sources are considered. If one party has diminished work experience due to caring for children or other relevant considerations, that is also taken into account.
  • Child custody – The custody of minor children and the care they will need is another factor relevant to alimony.
  • The length of time you were married – In Utah, the length of the marriage is calculated from the day the marriage was made legal until the day the petition to divorce was filed. The longer the marriage, the more likely the courts are to award alimony. The length of the marriage may also affect the amount of alimony and how long it will be paid.
  • Contributions to the other’s career or education – If one party contributed to the other party’s education, that might increase their likelihood of receiving alimony. The courts will consider whether you paid for or otherwise made your spouse’s education possible.
  • Fault for the divorce – The court may consider each spouse’s fault in the ending of the marriage. For example, if one party committed adultery, that may affect the court’s ruling on alimony.
  • Employment by the other spouse’s business – If you worked for a business owned or operated by the other party, you may have to leave that job in the aftermath of your divorce. Therefore, it becomes relevant to the court’s decision on alimony.

Alimony amounts are decided on a case-by-case basis. Your Davis County family and divorce lawyer can assist you in understanding the nuances of your situation.

How long do alimony payments last?

It is up to the judge in your divorce case to determine the length of time alimony payments will continue. In most cases, a Utah judge cannot order alimony to last longer than the length of the marriage except in particular circumstances. Barring exceptional situations, the longest you will receive or pay alimony is the amount of time you were married. Temporary alimony paid during separation or the divorce process will count toward that time.

The court can and does sometimes rule for shorter times based on the circumstances of your divorce, employment, and finances. Within the length-of-marriage limitation, alimony duration is at the judge’s discretion.

If one party feels there are special reasons alimony should continue longer than the decreed length. They can raise that issue with the court for consideration any time before alimony terminates.

Alimony also ends if the recipient remarries unless your divorce decree states otherwise. It also ends if the recipient cohabitates with another person, though the paying spouse must prove this to the court. Cohabitation is living with another person in a sexual or romantic relationship. In other words, if the alimony recipient moves in with a significant other, they are likely cohabitating, in which case the courts would end the alimony.

How is alimony enforced?

The recipient can ask the court to enforce the order if alimony is not paid as decreed. The court can issue a judgment for the unpaid amounts and may also find the payer in contempt of court. That could result in a fine or even jail time.

How is an alimony order modified?

You’ll need to go back to court if you want to modify your alimony decree. In the case of substantial changes in either party’s circumstances, the court may consider making a modification. Those changed circumstances cannot pertain to needs that did not exist when the initial decree was made, except in exceptional cases. Your lawyer can help you determine if you circumstances may warrant a change.

Alimony is a complex issue that will affect both parties’ financial futures. Your spousal support lawyer will fight to get you the most advantageous alimony decree possible and help you understand the implications of the specific terms in your alimony agreement.

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