If you’re like many people in the midst of divorce, your heart sinks every time you think about the issue of alimony. You may feel discouraged before you even get started, after hearing stories from friends who thought they were qualified for alimony and then lost out, or got an amount far short of their expectations.
You might even be asking yourself, should I bother? The answer is a resounding yes! Getting a fair and appropriate alimony settlement can make the difference between a comfortable life post-divorce and one of hardship, stress and scramble. And for a spouse who took a break from their careers to raise kids, a solid, reliable alimony settlement can be the key to making a fresh start in both your home and work life.
Unfortunately, many people have misconceptions about what goes into alimony calculations and how settlements are made. These include:
- Thinking the courts will always start with a 50/50 custody arrangement.
- Believing that alimony is based on a straight income vs. income equation.
- Feeling it is not in the best interests of the child to fight about money.
All of these misconceptions work against you in preventing you for asking for the best possible financial settlement, which is why hiring an attorney is so important. In fact, courts base custody on a host of factors, taking into account what’s in the best interest of the child. And as you probably realize, being well provided for in both households at an equivalent standard of living will give your children an essential sense of security.
What Is Alimony?
Alimony, or “spousal support” as it’s sometimes known, is awarded based on the determination that one member of a couple lacks sufficient income to provide for basic needs and maintain a standard of living on par with the spouse’s financial circumstances.
The courts will calculate your alimony based on two primary factors: your lack of assets, and your spouse’s ability to pay. Therefore you have two things to demonstrate: That you need the money (which you do) and that your ex has the resources available to even the scales. But the attorneys of Robinson & Henry know that this is by no means the extent of what the courts consider when weighing support. The court also takes into account the amount of property each of you will take away from the divorce, your family’s standard of living during your life as a married couple, and a host of specific circumstances that went into your past financial status and will prove important in the future as well.
Here’s what you need to know to qualify for alimony and to maximize the amount of money you receive.
You Took Time Off Work
What if you haven’t worked in many years? In determining what the law calls “appropriate employment,” the court takes into account the arrangement the couple established during the marriage. So if during your marriage you and your spouse decided together that it was beneficial for you to stay home, that agreement will be an important support of your case as the court looks forward to determine future expectations for “suitable employment.”
In one Robinson & Henry case, the court awarded the wife alimony based on the fact that that during a long marriage, the wife’s income had been – and continued to be — significantly less than her spouse’s. In addition the wife, a psychologist, was suffering from emotional distress that interfered with her ability to practice her profession. In sum, the court determined that on her own she would be unable to maintain a lifestyle remotely approaching that which she’d enjoyed during the marriage and thus was entitled to spousal support.
Your Spouse Says They Have No Money
Crying broke is a common strategy, and for this reason, the courts don’t take the spouse’s word for it. They will look at his assets and income in the past as well as in the present. And even if they have lost his job, taken a hit financially, or otherwise undergone some adverse financial circumstances, the court won’t just leave it there, they’ll evaluate the full set of circumstances and estimate the potential for his financial status to rally in the future. Past court cases show that when the wife cannot support herself and any dependent children according to a standard of living similar to what the family previously enjoyed, the court considers that circumstance just as important as the spouse’s claims of impoverishment.
In the case of one Robinson & Henry client, the spouse contended they had no money for support payments. However, an appellate court reviewed the settlement, found there was a reasonable likelihood his situation would improve, and awarded alimony on that basis.
In the case of another Robinson & Henry client, the spouse argued that paying support would leave him impoverished. But the court ultimately determined that the long duration of the couple’s marriage and the wife’s inability to support herself and their children at their previous standard of living trumped the spouse’s claims of lack of funds. So you can see that your spouse’s argument that paying support will leave him unable to support himself adequately may well fail to win over the court.
Another all-too-common situation is the spouse who once earned a generous income but becomes unemployed or underemployed and uses that to argue for reduced alimony. In this case, the court will look carefully at his prior earning capabilities, as well as other family circumstances. In one such case, the court determined the spouse’s earning capacity to be more than $12,000 a month, despite the fact that they were currently unemployed. In addition, the court noted that the wife had significantly contributed to her spouse’s career. So as you can see, a change in work circumstances will not necessarily disqualify your former spouse from support payments.
My Old Career Is No Longer Available to Me
What if your spouse argues that you are capable of earning an income that you know is no longer within reach? If you took time out of the workplace to raise a family or if other circumstances prevent your returning to a position similar to one you once held, the court will give this circumstance considerable weight. The attorneys of Robinson & Henry see this all too often and will not be fooled. For example, a spouse recently contended that since the wife had once worked as a manager, owned a small business, and held a securities license, her earning capacity should be determined according to those prior circumstances.
However, the wife had taken sixteen years off to raise the couple’s children. Based on this fact the court agreed with Robinson & Henry’s argument that she could not possibly be expected to have the earning capacity she had once had. The wife also wished to go back to school and make a career change, and the court agreed that this was a valid goal as well. The wife received the alimony she needed to make this transition possible.
How Long Will I Receive Alimony?
Just as no two families are exactly alike, no two alimony settlements will be arrived at in just the same way. Your age and the age of your spouse, your health, the length of your marriage, and the distribution of property upon your divorce will all be considered. And these factors will be particularly important as the court looks at duration of alimony – in other words how long you will continue to receive payments and whether those payments will decrease over time. In evaluating duration, the court may also take into account savings and the ability of both parties to set aside money for future disasters and to provide for retirement.
As an illustration, when a spouse asserted that because his soon to be ex-wife was able to set aside money in savings and retirement accounts, she should not be entitled to alimony as she could use that money to live on. The Robinson & Henry family law team successfully argued that their client’s frugality should not be used against her, and was successful in obtaining additional support to be used for retirement savings.
Don’t Undersell Yourself
In asking for alimony, you will want to compile a list of all possible circumstances that could potentially factor into your financial status now and going forward. Evaluate and document your prior standard of living, the duration of your marriage, your age and health, and your future financial security, as well as your spouse’s earning capacity and your own. If you set your own career aside to raise children or supported your spouse while they built a business or practice, those contributions are important to document as well.
Presenting a full and clear picture of your financial needs and your former spouse’s earning capacity and financial status will allow you to get the maximum possible financial support, and to do that you need an attorney. The team at Robinson & Henry have the experience you need, with a proven track record in getting fair and generous settlements.
Our divorce and family law attorneys have handled many cases like yours with excellent results, so call today and find out how we can help you get the financial support you need and deserve.