Alimony is financial support that a court orders one spouse to pay to the other spouse. A court may award alimony upon entering a final decree of divorce.
A court may also award alimony to be paid while a divorce is going on, before the divorce is final. A court may also award alimony during, or at the end of, an action for separate maintenance.
A court may not award alimony when an annulment case becomes final; however, in some annulments, the court may order alimony while the annulment is going on. Alimony is sometimes called “spousal support”; the purpose of alimony is to support the financially weaker spouse. Alimony is distinct from child support, which exists to support minor children.
If you are considering divorce in Oklahoma, you may be wondering: Will I have to pay alimony? Will the court order my spouse to pay me alimony?
Understanding Alimony in Oklahoma
In deciding whether to award alimony and how much alimony to award, courts look at two controlling factors:
- The need of the recipient, and
- The ability of the other spouse to pay.
The Need of the Recipient
The “need of the recipient” must be a need that arises from the marriage, or is rationally connected to the marriage. For example, if one spouse had a very high income during the marriage, and the other spouse has been accustomed to the lifestyle that the high income enabled, the court may order the high-income spouse to pay alimony so that the other spouse can continue the mode of living to which he or she has been accustomed.
In Bowman v. Bowman, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals listed a number of factors that a court could consider, in awarding alimony:
(1) the wife’s loss of the right of inheritance from the husband;
(2) the expectation of a future inheritance of the husband;
(3) the husband’s future earning capacity;
(4) the husband’s present ability to pay;
(5) the wife’s contribution to the husband’s accumulation;
(6) whether the marriage was one of affection or convenience;
(7) the earning capacity of the husband;
(8) the wife’s condition and means;
(9) duration of the married life and the ages of the parties;
(10) the wife’s health;
(11) any future increase in the value of land;
(12) the wife’s opportunity for employment;
(13) the wife’s ability to obtain gainful employment;
(14) the mode of living to which the wife had become accustomed during the marriage;
(15) the probability of the husband’s ability to progress financially;
(16) the earning capacity of the wife;
(17) the wife’s ability to make a living before the marriage;
(18) the conduct of the parties;
(19) the wife’s education;
(20) the age of the children and the need to maintain a home for them;
(21) the parties’ station in life before the divorce
However, a court is not required to consider any or all of these factors when it makes an alimony award. The court may also consider factors not on this list if those factors relate to the need of the recipient, or the ability of the other spouse to pay.
The “misconduct” or “fault” of one spouse is not a reason to award alimony unless the misconduct caused the spouse’s need. In Smith v. Smith, the court wrote,
“In our view, the supreme court intended to restrict evidence of marital misconduct to those situations where the “need” for alimony arose out of or was aggravated by, the misconduct. For example, if the physical or emotional health of the party seeking alimony was damaged as a result of the acts of the spouse, this would certainly be a circumstance the court could consider as affecting the right to alimony or the amount. Under no circumstances can alimony be used to punish a litigant.”
At one time in Oklahoma history, courts used fault alone as a reason to award alimony. In 1976 the legislature prohibited courts from using misconduct, alone, as the sole reason to award alimony.
Alimony Orders – How much? How often?
In its alimony order, the court must “plainly state … the dollar amount” of alimony to be awarded. The Court may order a spouse to pay alimony in one lump sum, or in regular payments. The Court may also order a spouse to pay regular payments of alimony and direct that the payments end at a specific time.
The Court may order the husband to pay alimony to the wife or order the wife to pay alimony to the husband. (Formerly, a court could award alimony only to wives. In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this law as unconstitutional gender discrimination, and held that a court could award alimony to either spouse.)
An obligation to pay alimony terminates automatically, if the receiving spouse remarries, or if either spouse dies. The paying spouse may not discharge an alimony obligation by declaring bankruptcy.
Reduction in Alimony
If there is a change in either the receiving spouse’s need or in the other spouse’s ability to pay, either spouse may ask the court to change the amount of money that is paid. Oklahoma law specifically states that, if the receiving spouse cohabitates with a person of the opposite sex, and the cohabitation reduces the spouse’s need for alimony, the court may use cohabitation as a reason to reduce to terminate the alimony payments.
However, cohabitation does not automatically reduce alimony; a party desiring to reduce alimony based on the other spouse’s cohabitation must still make an application to the court to terminate alimony. If a court modifies alimony for any reason, the court may only modify alimony prospectively; that is, the court may only modify the alimony to be paid in the future. The court may not alter the amount of alimony that has been paid in the past.
If a court orders a spouse to pay alimony, and the spouse does not pay, the court has a variety of options to enforce its alimony order. The court can hold the non-paying spouse in contempt, which can result in the spouse being fined up to $500, and spending up to six months in jail.
The court may impose a lien on the delinquent spouse’s real property. The court may garnish the non-paying spouse’s income. The court may also enforce alimony obligations in the same way it may enforce any other civil order.
The economic consequences of divorce can be devastating. Alimony is one way that the state has sought to reduce the financial burdens that arise from the pain of divorce. If you believe that you may be entitled to a payment of alimony during or after your divorce, alimony is definitely an issue that you should discuss with your lawyer.
Kyle Persaud received his B.A. from Oklahoma Wesleyan University and his law degree from the University of Tulsa and was admitted to the Oklahoma bar in 2009. As a Bartlesville attorney, Kyle strives to help reunite families and ensure that children, particularly children who have been in abusive situations in the past, will reside in homes where they are loved and cared for. www.persaudlawoffice.com