If you’re in the early stages of a divorce or considering divorce, you probably have a lot of questions about the money stuff.
Will I be broke after this divorce? Will I have to pay alimony? And if so, will I have enough money to support myself?
Divorce is stressful enough without worrying about whether you’ll be destitute.
Let’s put a few of those fears to rest.
Here’s the good news: In Georgia, alimony is becoming disfavored, especially in the counties in and around Atlanta. For most people who do pay alimony, it’s typically a modest amount for a few years.
And couples that negotiate settlements on their own outside the courtroom can make whatever financial agreement works best for them.
What is alimony?
Alimony is financial support provided by one spouse to another spouse (often called the supported spouse) after a divorce. The purpose of alimony is to ensure both parties have sufficient financial resources after the divorce.
If the financial resources are already similar, alimony isn’t necessary. So it’s usually awarded in divorces where one spouse has a significantly lower income or less earning power. And we’re not talking about the difference between one spouse making $70k a year and one spouse making $50k.
In most divorce cases, alimony isn’t a big issue. Child support and division of assets are the bigger financial elements. Some exceptions are (1) if one spouse has been out of the workforce and needs a period of support so they can re-enter the workforce, (2) if one spouse can’t work for medical reasons, or (3) if one spouse is a high-income earner and the other is not.
How does alimony work?
Judges have a lot of discretion in awarding (or not awarding) alimony.
If the divorcing couple has minor children, alimony is determined after child support. Sometimes child support payments bring the two houses to similar financial resources, and alimony becomes unnecessary.
If the judge does award alimony, it could be a lump sum or monthly payments. How the alimony is structured can make a difference in what the supported spouse ultimately receives. For instance, a lump sum of money is a one-and-done situation. You can’t change it after the fact.
Compare that with monthly payments. These periodic payments are the most common way alimony support is structured. If one spouse pays the other a set amount per month, that amount can sometimes be changed (or eliminated altogether) if circumstances change. In most cases, a spouse isn’t required to continue paying alimony if the supported spouse remarries. Or the spouse paying alimony may request a change if they get laid off or the supported spouse receives a large inheritance.
The rule of thumb used to be that alimony would last for one-half to one-third the length of the marriage. Now it’s typically less than one-third the length of the marriage (if at all).
And perhaps it goes without saying, but alimony ends when either spouse dies. A supporting spouse’s estate doesn’t have to continue paying alimony to a supported spouse.
If a couple is creating their own settlement, they also have a great deal of discretion. Negotiating the terms of your divorce outside the courtroom is a good way to keep costs down and reduce emotional drama during the process.
Plus, when you reach your own agreement, you’re not stuck with a judge’s decision. You and your spouse decide what the terms of your divorce, including alimony, will be.
If you want to go the negotiation route — and I highly recommend you do — you’ll need to understand your situation. What are your existing expenses? What will your new expenses be once the divorce is finalized?
If you aren’t the one who handles finances in your marriage, now’s the time to get familiar with them. How much is coming in? How much is going out?
Once you have a clear understanding of the full picture, think about what you want and what feels fair to you. If your spouse has been home raising the children for the last 10 years, they might need some support to re-enter the workforce. If you have similar incomes, then maybe no one needs support. If your income is significantly higher than your spouse’s, but you’ve only been married two years, you might feel like it’s unfair to pay any alimony.
Once you begin negotiating, do your best to listen calmly and carefully to your spouse’s request. If you’re trying to keep your divorce out of court, remember that goal. Take a break if you need to regain your composure.
If you get to a stalemate, remember that you can think outside the box. Perhaps you can give your spouse more of the marital assets in exchange for not paying alimony. Whatever you do, try to think about alimony pragmatically. It’s not a punishment for you (if you’re paying it) or a reward for your spouse (if they’re receiving it).
It’s about helping level things out financially after the divorce.
If you’re not able to successfully negotiate a full settlement, then you’ll have to ask the court to decide on the terms you weren’t able to reach. Those terms could include alimony. If so, they’ll need to view evidence, which could include significant financial documentation.
How a judge determines alimony amount
Whether a judge awards alimony and the amount of any alimony depends on a number of factors. There is no specific formula for determining the amount of alimony.
The judge may consider:
- How long you’ve been married (awards of alimony are uncommon in short marriages)
- Whether one of you contributed to the other’s education or career advancement
- Your age and health (physical and emotional), as well as your spouse’s
- How other property is being divided — for instance, the family home
- Your income, assets, and debt, as well as your spouse’s
- What the standard of living was during your marriage
- Whether you or your spouse need support to maintain an adaquate standard of living.
Say one spouse has a college degree but has been out of the workforce raising children. The judge may award temporary — or rehabilitative — alimony to allow that spouse time to get back into the workforce.
A judge isn’t limited to these factors. They can consider other things they deem appropriate. For instance, they may deny alimony or reduce the amount for a spouse who committed adultery.
Georgia family law courts do not issue alimony broadly. In most cases, permanent alimony is reserved for spouses that cannot work because of health or disability issues. A judge generally won’t award alimony to someone so they can remain out of the workforce — even if they’re raising children. The same goes for someone who has a part-time job but could make more with a full-time job.
It may seem unfair to a spouse who has to make a job change, but maintaining the family’s life in two homes after a divorce costs more than before the divorce.
This may seem obvious, but if a spouse can’t afford to pay alimony, the judge won’t award it even if the other spouse could use some financial support.
Couples that are able to come to an agreement in an uncontested divorce don’t have to rely on the court to determine their financial future. We work with divorcing couples every day to negotiate settlements that are fair to both parties and keep the drama to a minimum. Contact us to schedule your Divorce Strategy Session..