Alimony is a payment from one spouse to the other to help the recipient spouse maintain a lifestyle as close as possible to the marital standard of living. It is not gender-based; either spouse may request alimony from the other. A court will award alimony only to a spouse who is financially disadvantaged, however. In other words, you can’t get alimony out of your spouse if you are the one who has more income, property, or both. Typically, the court will award alimony payments after distributing the marital property between the spouses. That way, the judge knows the income and other assets of the spouses, as well as the debt obligations that each must carry, and can make an alimony award that’s appropriate to the circumstances.
Once the court settles the spouses’ property rights, it will consider a request for alimony. Generally, the court looks to the standard of living enjoyed at the time of separation to determine appropriate alimony, but it can also look at the situation at the time of trial if there has been a significant change in resources since the time of separation – the loss of a job, for example. If your marriage was short and there are no children, the court could use the standard of living at the beginning of marriage instead.
If a spouse is unable to meet the appropriate standard of living without help from the other spouse, then the court looks to a series of factors to determine the amount and duration of alimony. It evaluates the recipient spouse’s financial resources, needs, and earning capacity, as well as the payor spouse’s ability to pay. The court is not required to order an advantaged spouse to pay support if so doing means that the paying spouse won’t be able to be self-supporting. Likewise, the court can’t make the payor spouse pay more than what the recipient spouse needs to meet the marital standard of living, no matter how much money the paying spouse might be able to pay.
Other factors that the judge may consider are the length of the marriage, what the child custody arrangement is, and whether the payor spouse’s earning capacity increased because the recipient spouse contributed to education or training during marriage. If the marriage was long and one spouse is at the threshold of a major change in income because of the collective efforts of both spouses during the marriage, that change also will be a factor in the alimony award. The court has considerable discretion in awarding alimony and may look at the spouses’ relative fault in causing the marriage to fail as well.
The court does not have to use a set formula – plugging in the spouses’ incomes and child-support obligation, among other elements – to come up with a payment amount. It can, however, order alimony based on an income-equalization calculation where neither spouse earns enough to be self-supporting and also cover the other spouse’s needs.
For example, let’s say wife worked part-time during marriage, earning a net income (meaning, after taxes) of $800 a month and husband earned a net income of $2,600 a month. The court would attempt to equalize the incomes by adding them together for a sum of $3,400 and then dividing it by 2, for a quotient of $1,700. Then, the court would subtract wife’s net income ($800) from $1,700, leaving an alimony payment to wife of $900.
If you are paying alimony, your payments are tax deductible. If you are receiving alimony, the IRS taxes what you receive as income.
In Utah, alimony payments usually last only as long as the number of years the marriage existed. The court could order them for a shorter or longer time, however, if the right circumstances exist. Also, payments automatically terminate when the recipient spouse remarries or wen either spouse dies. Where the recipient spouse doesn’t remarry but moves in with a new partner, the payor spouse can ask the court to terminate alimony obligations. On the other hand, if the payor spouse remarries, there are some situations where the court could change the amount of alimony due based on the income of the payor’s subsequent spouse. For example, if a husband worked as a contractor and has an affair with an orthopedist that affects his marriage, the court could first order husband to pay his wife, a homemaker, alimony based on his resources as a contractor. Later, if he marries the orthopedist, the court could increase his payments to his first wife based on the second wife’s income because the orthopedist can contribute more to his household expenses and because there was an element of improper conduct (his affair).
As the example above demonstrates, at either spouse’s request the court can modify alimony payments well after your divorce is final. There must be a good and unanticipated reason for the change, however.
You can read the law on alimony in the Utah Codes Section 30-3-5. If you would like to read a case that explains the factors used to evaluate alimony see Batty v. Batty 153 P.3d 827 (2006). It was Judge Orme who called the equalization of income method an “equalization of poverty” in Sellers v. Sellers 246 P.3d 173 (2010). For more on alimony and taxes, see Internal Revenue Service Publication 504, page 12.
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