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How Judges Set the Amount of Alimony

On Behalf of | Jan 31, 2022 | Divorce

Going through a divorce is a stressful and emotional process for many reasons. However, an almost universal concern among anyone getting divorced is what their financial future will look like post-divorce. Calculating the appropriate alimony amount is one of the many considerations that can impact your finances during and after a divorce. At the Kentucky divorce law firm of Batson Nolan PLC, we aggressively advocate on behalf of our clients in all types of alimony proceedings. Whether you are seeking to establish, modify, or terminate alimony payments, we can help.

What Is Alimony?

Alimony is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to the other. Typically, a court awards alimony to the spouse who earns a lower income. The purpose of alimony is to enable the receiving spouse to maintain the quality of life they enjoyed during the marriage.

Types of Alimony

When most people think of alimony, they picture monthly payments that go on in perpetuity. However, there are a few different kinds of alimony a judge can award.

Temporary Alimony

Temporary alimony payments—also referred to as pendente lite—provide short-term support to a person as they are going through the divorce process. One of the issues many people face when getting divorced is access to money. In many couples, one spouse is the primary income earner. This can make it difficult for the other spouse to support themselves while the divorce is pending. Judges award temporary alimony to ensure that both spouses can provide for themselves, which includes retaining an attorney.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony provides payments to one spouse so they can get to the point where they can support themselves. For example, a judge may award short-term alimony to a person while they further their education or obtain specialized job training. Rehabilitative alimony is much more common than permanent alimony.

Permanent Alimony

As the name implies, permanent alimony extends for an indefinite amount of time. Typically judges award permanent alimony only if a couple was married for a long time. However, there are exceptions, such as if one spouse is disabled and cannot work. While permanent alimony does not have a termination date, the paying spouse can petition the court to modify or terminate the order if the parties’ situation changes. For example, a court may terminate an alimony award if the receiving spouse remarries.

How Judges Set the Amount in Alimony Proceedings

Divorce can have a dramatic impact on your finances. Alimony is a way to ensure that one spouse does not bear the full brunt of that impact. Determining whether to award alimony and, if so, how much is a rather complex process, and the judge overseeing the case has significant discretion. However, judges rely on the following factors when determining the appropriate alimony amount:

  • The length of the marriage;
  • The couple’s standard of living during the marriage;
  • Each spouse’s individual assets, income, and debt;
  • How the court distributed the couple’s jointly owned property;
  • The age and physical health of each spouse;
  • The needs of the couple’s children;
  • Whether either spouse has other child-related responsibilities that may prevent them from working;
  • Whether one spouse voluntarily left a job to raise the couple’s children;
  • The possibility of either spouse receiving significant assets; and
  • Any other factors the judge determines are relevant.

A judge’s alimony decision is generally final. However, both paying and receiving spouses can seek a modification to a current alimony order.

When Will a Judge Modify an Alimony Payment?

Unless spouses agree in writing not to challenge an alimony award, either spouse can petition the court to modify an alimony award. However, before a court modifies an alimony order, the party seeking modification must show that there has been a material change in circumstances. Examples of what may constitute a material change in circumstances include the following.

Involuntary Job Loss

Paying spouses cannot be expected to maintain ongoing payments without the same level of income, and receiving spouses may request additional support in the wake of job loss. Thus, if either spouse involuntarily loses their job, it may justify the court modifying the amount of alimony.

Disability or Illness

Serious illness or disability may not only keep a person from working but also result in significant medical expenses. If either spouse suffers disability or illness, they may request to modify an existing alimony payment amount.

New Obligations

If the paying spouse has another child, it may reduce the income from which they can make existing alimony payments. Thus, a judge may take this into account and reduce the amount of alimony.

When Do Judges Terminate Alimony Obligations?

A judge may terminate one party’s alimony support obligations in a variety of situations. Of course, if either spouse dies, there is no longer a need for alimony payments. Other situations where a judge may terminate alimony payments include if the receiving spouse remarries or begins cohabitating with another partner.

However, cohabitation does not affect alimony amounts already paid. If the judge terminates one party’s alimony obligations, they will no longer need to make payments; however, alimony already paid through a lump-sum distribution is not reimbursable. The only exception to this is if the receiving spouse defrauded the paying spouse, in which case the court may compensate the paying spouse accordingly.

Contact a Divorce Lawyer to Learn More About How Judges Set the Alimony Amount

If you are in the process of getting a divorce, it is important that you have an experience divorce lawyer by your side. Alimony is one of the major issues that must be resolved in a divorce, and the judge’s decision can have long-term consequences on your financial future. At the law firm of Batson Nolan PLC, we have extensive experience helping people through divorces, advising them, and advocating on their behalf at every stage of the process, including ensuring a fair alimony amount. We have convenient locations in Clarksville and Springfield, Tennessee, and offer free consultations to all prospective clients. To learn more about how our attorneys can help you in your alimony case, give us a call today. You can also connect with us through our online contact form.