A common question that recently separated parties ask me is, “Am I entitled to alimony, or will I have to pay alimony?” They then follow up with several more questions, which usually include “How much alimony will I receive/pay?” and “How long will the spousal support last?”
A majority of couples going through a divorce want answers to these questions, as they can have a major impact on their post-divorce financial situation. But the answers to these questions aren’t set in stone: they’ll vary greatly depending on a number of factors in your case, including the financial circumstances of the parties, the length of the marriage, the reasons the marriage ended, and even which court is handling the divorce.
Separated spouses’ options for spousal support
When spouses separate, they generally have several options for requesting spousal support from a court.
1. First, if there are grounds for a divorce, a party may file a complaint for divorce and request temporary spousal support, called pendente lite, from a judge.
2. Second, a party may also file a petition for support in the appropriate juvenile and domestic relations district court. In the juvenile courts, when minor children are involved, the courts use a formula of 28 percent of the higher-earning spouse’s income minus 58 percent of the lower-earning spouse’s income. When no children are involved, a juvenile court will use 30 percent of the higher-earning spouse’s income minus 50 percent of the lower-earning spouse’s income.
For example, if you have no kids, and you earn $25,000 a year but your spouse earns $50,000 a year, the guidelines recommend $2,500 in alimony per year (30 percent of your spouse’s income is $15,000, and 50 percent of your income is $12,500; $15,000 – $12,500 is $2,500).
Moreover, the formulas in circuit court will also vary depending on what locality you file in. The court will also take into account the parties’ income and debt ratios.
What about longer-term spousal support after the divorce?
On a longer-term basis, there is no set formula that a court will use for determining spousal support once it enters a final decree of divorce. Instead, the court will consider a variety of factors to determine the amount and length of spousal support. Some of these factors include the reason for the breakup of the marriage, the economic disparity between the parties, the contributions of each party to the marriage, the length of the marriage, and the standard of living during the marriage. The reasons the marriage ended can play an important role in whether spousal support is awarded, particularly if the court grants a divorce based on grounds of adultery.
How should I act to protect my rights in the event of a separation?
First, it’s important to consult an attorney early on in the divorce process, even before you separate from your spouse. An attorney can help you get a sense of what you can expect during the divorce and afterward. A lawyer can also assist you with a strategy to either maximize the spousal support that you’re entitled to or reduce the spousal support amounts that you must pay.
Second, it’s also important to begin gathering financial information early on to help your attorney prepare your case. This information includes tax returns, paystubs, investment and bank account information, and debt information.
To learn more about spousal support, or to discuss any family law, criminal law, or personal injury matter, please contact our firm.
This post is provided as an educational service and should not be construed as legal advice. Readers in need of assistance with a legal matter should retain the services of competent counsel.