When it comes to the divorce process, spousal support is a hot-button issue for many couples. The idea of one spouse being financially responsible for the other can be difficult to accept, and the laws surrounding this issue can be even more difficult to understand.
Depending on the applicable state laws and the specific circumstances of an individual case, a person may be entitled to receive this form of support, which takes the form of money paid from one spouse to the other in order to maintain the lifestyle they had during their marriage.
It can be challenging to know when spousal support will be a factor in your case, but understanding the applicable laws and the other issues surrounding this form of support can help you plan accordingly.
When Is Spousal Support Awarded?
Following a divorce, both parties should be able to continue living at the standard they were used to while they were married. In reality, this may not be financially possible, since rather than using their combined incomes to cover the expenses of maintaining a single household, each spouse will need to maintain a separate household on a single income. Cutting back on expenses and accepting a somewhat diminished standard of living may be necessary, but in many cases, each spouse will be able to make these adjustments and determine how they will be able to address their needs going forward.
However, there are some situations where a spouse may not have the resources to support themselves. In cases where one spouse earns significantly more than the other, spousal support may be needed to help a person sustain their accustomed lifestyle. In some cases, spousal support may also be awarded if one spouse has been out of the workforce for an extended period of time and needs help finding employment or re-entering the job market. This form of support may be appropriate in cases where one spouse has been a stay-at-home parent or where they relied on their former partner to bring in most of their family’s income.
To determine whether spousal support may be awarded in a particular divorce case, it is important to understand the applicable state laws. Each state has its own unique laws surrounding divorce, and different states have different methods that are used to determine whether a spouse is eligible to receive spousal support. However, in most cases, a variety of factors will be evaluated to determine whether one spouse should pay support to the other. These factors may include:
- The length of the couple’s marriage
- The standard of living the couple enjoyed while they were married
- The financial resources available to each spouse, including the income they currently earn, the separate property they own, and the marital property distributed to them during the divorce
- Each spouse’s age, health, education, employment experience, and other issues that affect their income-earning ability
- If a spouse is not currently working, the amount of time they have been out of the workforce and the time that will be needed to obtain sufficient education or training that will enable them to become self-supporting
- Whether one spouse made significant contributions towards furthering the other’s education or career
- Whether either spouse made sacrifices to their education, career, or income-earning ability in order to address family or household responsibilities
- Other divorce-related decisions that may affect the spouses’ situations and financial resources, including arrangements for the custody of children that may limit a parent’s ability to work
- Any actions taken by one spouse that have caused harm to the other, such as domestic abuse or purposeful destruction of property
- Any agreements between the spouses, including prenuptial or postnuptial agreements that state that spousal support will or will not be paid in certain situations
Depending on state laws, issues related to infidelity may or may not be a factor in determining whether a spouse should pay or receive spousal support. Some states, such as Illinois, do not consider “marital misconduct” when determining whether spousal support will be appropriate. However, other states may consider whether a spouse committed adultery or abandoned the other spouse when addressing issues related to spousal support. For example, in Georgia, a person will not be entitled to receive alimony if it can be shown that the marriage ended because they committed adultery.
How Are Spousal Support Payments Determined?
The process for determining the amount of spousal support paid by one spouse to the other also varies by state. In some states, such as Illinois, a formula is used to calculate an amount of support based on the income each spouse earns. In other states, family court judges will have the discretion to determine an appropriate amount that will be needed to ensure that the recipient of support can meet their ongoing needs without placing too much of a burden on the spouse paying support. Additionally, spouses may agree on settlements outside of court that specify spousal support amounts without requiring court intervention.
If spousal support is awarded, couples will also need to determine how long the payments will last. Most of the time, spousal support will be temporary, and it will last for a limited amount of time after the finalization of a couple’s divorce. This may be a specific number of years, such as a percentage of the amount of time the couple was married. In other cases, support may only be paid for as long as necessary so that the recipient can become financially independent, such as until they receive a college degree. State laws may also allow spousal support to be reviewable, and after it has been paid for a certain number of years, a judge will determine whether continued support will be necessary. In some cases, spousal support may be paid permanently, such as if one spouse requires lifelong care due to an injury or illness.
Can Spousal Support Be Modified?
There are a variety of issues that may affect spouses in the years after they complete the divorce process. When these issues have an impact on the finances of either party, modifications to existing spousal support orders may be necessary. For example, a person who pays spousal support may request a modification if they experience financial issues that affect their ability to make ongoing payments, such as the loss of a job or a serious injury or illness. Modification or termination of spousal support may also be requested if either party believes that it is no longer necessary because the recipient is now able to fully support themselves.
Most state laws also provide for the automatic termination of spousal support in certain situations. The death of either ex-spouse will usually cause spousal support to end. If the recipient gets remarried, or if they begin living together with a new romantic partner, this will also usually result in the automatic end of the other party’s requirement to pay support.
Get Legal Help From a Divorce Lawyer
Although it is impossible to say definitively whether spousal support will become an issue in a particular divorce case, understanding some of the key factors involved can help divorcing couples prepare themselves better for what lies ahead. As with any legal matter related to divorce, it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced Naperville divorce attorney who can provide guidance on the state laws that apply in your situation. With the help of an experienced family law attorney, you can make sure you are receiving fair treatment throughout your divorce proceedings, and you can determine the best approach to take as you work to legally dissolve your marriage and move forward to the next stage of your life.