What Is Alimony?

Alimony is money that one spouse pays to the other for support during or after a divorce. When it comes to the state of Alabama, you may sometimes hear this being referred to as “spousal maintenance,” “spousal support,” or even “spousal allowance.”

If there is a large disparity of income between spouses going through a divorce, the lower earner may become unable to pay for their normal living expenses. In this case, a court may require the person making more money – whether they are the husband or wife – to help the lower-income person financially for a set period of time.

Types of Alimony in Alabama

A judge may award temporary alimony during divorce proceedings, sometimes called “pendente lite,” as well as temporary or permanent alimony after the divorce has been finalized. In most cases, the payor spouse will give the recipient money in a specified amount on a monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly basis. In some instances, a person may pay alimony in one lump sum.

Once common, permanent alimony is now becoming rare. The name is a bit confusing as well. Permanent alimony does not last forever, just long-term. Permanent alimony is used mostly in situations where older spouses served as homemakers during long marriages. A couple can also agree among themselves to provide one spouse with either permanent or long-term alimony.

Lump Sum Alimony occurs when the entire alimony award is given at one time. No more payments are paid out after that.

Alimony Pendente Lite is a temporary award that the judge may give to the recipient spouse while the case is still pending, but there is no final order. This variety of spousal support is only intended to keep the needier spouse financially solvent through the divorce proceedings.

Periodic Alimony is the sort that many of us think of when we think of alimony. This involves one spouse paying alimony to the other on a regular basis. The awards can certainly be terminated or modified depending on whether or not incomes/financial circumstances change drastically or substantially.

Rehabilitative Alimony is alimony that falls into the periodic category but serves a different purpose. The payor pays alimony to the recipient only until the payee is able to get an education or find a job that will support them financially. The purpose of these payments is to help the recipient get back on their feet in a financial sense.

Gross Alimony, or Alimony in Gross, is a one-time property settlement that is not able to be modified at a later time.

When it comes to shorter marriages, courts tend to view alimony as more of a rehabilitative measure; it is monies paid for a temporary time period that will allow a spouse to find a job of their own or get an education that will enable them to increase their employment prospects. In some of these cases, a court may give alimony as reimbursement to a spouse who supported the other while the other spouse attended school or vocational training.

How is Eligibility Determined?

To award alimony, a court must find that one spouse has a financial need and the other has the ability to pay that spouse. A court will decide if there is both a need and the ability to pay, and will do this by examining all relevant circumstances as they pertain to your particular case.

One of the biggest factors when it comes to Alabama is the length of the marriage. In a shorter marriage, the mutual investment in the divorcing couple’s standard of living is usually substantially less, so only brief alimony would likely be granted, if any is awarded at all.

When courts evaluate the needs of the spouse, a court will first consider how separate assets or any marital assets the spouse receives in the division of equitable property can sustain their ability to live and provide support. Alimony is always determined after the property division part of your divorce is complete.

When it comes to determining the ability of the higher paying spouse to pay the alimony, the court will not consider any property the spouse owned prior to the marriage, or property acquired by gift or by inheritance, unless the property was used to generate income by the couple during their marriage. A court may also take a look at vested retirement benefits that accumulated during the marriage as a viable source of alimony if the couple has been married for at least ten years.

Here are a few other factors the courts may consider when making the decision to award alimony in Alabama:

  • Age and health of each spouse
  • Standard of living the couple had during marriage
  • The lower earner spouse’s contribution to the earning power of the higher income spouse
  • A spouse’s past work as a homemaker or stay-at-home parent
  • The opportunities of both spouses in the future to gain assets and income
  • The needs of any dependent children on the couple
  • Any conduct that contributed to the destruction of the marriage by either spouse

Bear in mind that there is no specific mathematical formula that governs how alimony is calculated in Alabama, and a court has to use a great deal of discretion when they decide what amount to award, if they decide to award any alimony at all.

How Is Alimony Calculated?

There is no formula used in the calculation of alimony in the state of Alabama. However, there are numerous factors the courts may consider when they decide whether or not to award support.

It is important that you go into this knowing what the court will consider so you can use it to positively affect your situation as best you can. Avoiding inconsistent awards can be done by speaking with your legal team and knowing for yourself what the factors are.

Some factors the court may consider when it comes time to calculate and award alimony include:

  • The future earning power of each party and their current wages
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The value and types of all property owned
  • The age and mental/physical health of the parties involved
  • Other relevant factors as determined by the court
  • The parties’ conduct

It is important to note that alimony in Alabama is usually not awarded for marriages that lasted less than 12 years. However, every situation is different, and anything can happen. Spousal support can be awarded to either party during a divorce proceeding, even to a spouse who did not request alimony. Alabama also does allow for the prior transgressions of a party to be part of the consideration for alimony.  

Does Adultery Affect Alimony?

Alabama law allows for two kinds of divorces, no-fault as well as fault-based. This is a sharp contrast when compared to the laws of several other states, where all the divorces are no-fault. No-fault divorce is where no particular reason is given for why the spouses have decided to split; it is enough that one spouse has decided the marriage is no longer viable and cannot be salvaged. The court does not have to spend time looking into any of the facts about how the spouses treated one another.

On the other hand, fault-based divorces are based upon proof that one of the parties committed misconduct of the marital variety – that is, some wrongful action that cannot be reversed and caused irreparable damage to the marriage. A wide range of legal authorities define adultery as occurring when a married individual engages in voluntary sexual intercourse with somebody other than their legal spouse. Legal experts believe that adultery is the most common ground or basis for fault-based divorces that take place in Alabama.

Alabama law states that once the adulterous act has occurred, that is enough reason for a married couple to split up and go their separate ways. This means that adultery may be a very important variable or factor when you are attempting to get a fault-based divorce. However, when it comes to alimony, the role of adultery can be relevant but at the same time is increasingly limited.

So, the question remains… How does adultery affect an alimony award in Alabama?

In Alabama, family law justices have to make an equitable division of marital property in cases of divorce. This means the property of the couple has to be divided in a reasonable and fair, equal way. However, each spouse will not necessarily walk away with the same amount of money. This also applies to alimony. There is no requirement that division of properties result in a fifty-fifty split. For that reason, judges will use a series of factors when they determine whether or not alimony should be awarded.

For example:

  • Each spouse’s earning ability
  • The future work prospects of each spouse
  • The ages and health, physical and mental, of each spouse
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The status in life of each spouse – wealth, social status, careers, standards of living, and what potential they have to maintain that once the divorce is finalized
  • The property each spouse possesses, including the source, the type, and the value of each of these properties
  • Other relevant factors the judge thinks should be considered

The “spousal conduct” factor includes adultery, but only if it is proven that adultery is the cause of the divorce. Although the judges are supposed to consider all relevant factors, Alabama judges do have the power to consider adultery as just one of the factors when they choose to award alimony.

When a fault-based divorce is granted by a judge, Alabama law allows the judge to give part of the adulterer’s piece of the finances to the “not guilty spouse,” or the person who was wronged or hurt by the act of adultery. The judge may also reduce an alimony award if the recipient has committed adultery.

The only limit on this is that judges cannot give the adulterer spouse non-marital property, or property that was acquired before the marriage, to the other spouse.

Can Alimony Be Changed?

Unless the couple has created a written agreement that states they will not seek any changes in alimony, a court has the ability to modify periodic payments if they can show a material change in their circumstances. In other words, one must prove that their spouse has the ability to support themselves.

Proof that a spouse has gotten married to somebody new or began to live in a cohabiting relationship in a setting akin to marriage with a person of the opposite gender will usually result in an alimony award terminating.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

The answer is, “it varies.”

In some cases, judges award temporary or rehabilitative alimony for shorter-term marriages, where one spouse just needs support for about 2-3 years until they get back into the workforce.

On April 13, 2017, the Governor of Alabama signed a law that states periodic alimony is still possible, but will have specific limitations on its awards.

Alimony pendente lite, or the alimony that is given while the case is still pending, ends with the final divorce decree.

Periodic alimony is awarded in a limited fashion. The new law states that rehabilitative alimony should have a five-year limit, but can be extended if a party can show good reason to deviate from such a rule. In this way, they can award support the same length of a marriage. So, if you were married for 15 years, you would be limited to no more than 15 years of alimony, even if you can prove that more alimony is warranted.

It gets a little deeper. For those married longer than 20 years, a person may still be awarded ongoing and permanent support. Nonetheless, the new law does bar endless alimony payments from burdening the payor.

Alimony and Taxes

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which was signed into law December 2018, eliminates the alimony and separate maintenance deduction for federal taxpayers currently paying alimony. In the past, the party paying alimony could deduct those monies from his or her taxable income, but the recipient had to pay income tax on the alimony that was received. The new law moves the burden and eliminates the deduction for the payor spouse, but also eliminates the need for the recipient to pay taxes on alimony.

The shifting of the tax burden as it relates to alimony payments will only pertain to those divorcing or entering into a separation during or after the year 2019.

Conclusion

Be sure that you speak with your legal counsel regarding any and all questions surrounding alimony that you have. They can and will guide you through the process from start to finish.