Written by family law attorney Stephanie Reid
Known in some jurisdictions as spousal support or spousal maintenance, alimony is a major component, and source of contention, in the divorce process. For the spouse who will receive monthly alimony payments, known as the "payee," the first question is usually "how much should I expect to receive?"
As with most legal questions, the answer is "it depends on your unique situation."
One of the first factors a court will consider is the length of your marriage. Generally, the shorter the marriage, the lower the alimony payments, or the shorter the length of time you’ll continue to receive payments.
In many states, if you’re married for less than 10 years you can expect alimony for a number of years equal to half the length of the marriage itself. For couples who made it past 10 years, the court will use a different approach to the situation, with an eye toward fair treatment of both spouses. The court may even award alimony indefinitely, or until the payee remarries.
Aside from the length of the marriage, the biggest factor in calculating alimony is the financial situation of the spouse who will be paying alimony (known as the "payor"), followed by the financial situation of the spouse who will be receiving alimony (the "payee").
First, the court will determine the payor’s monthly gross income. Then, the court will take into account the payor’s age, earning capacity, and monthly obligations, including debts, liabilities, child support, other alimony payments, and living expenses.
While some jurisdictions focus on fairness alone, other states have adopted a spousal support calculator designed to result in a consistent and predictable amount.
For example, New York courts adhere to a formula in which the higher-earning spouse must pay 30 percent of his or her monthly income, minus 20 percent of the lower-earning spouse’s income. But even with this alimony calculator, courts may still adjust this amount up or down as they decide what is fair, especially if one spouse ends up with more than 40 percent of the combined total income of both parties.
States also consider a number of subjective factors, even if they use an alimony formula.
Family court judges will consider each party’s contribution during the marriage – both financially and domestically. And there may be negative factors to consider; for example, a payor may be ordered to pay additional alimony if there is evidence of domestic violence in the marriage.
They’ll consider each party’s education level and ability to earn a post-divorce income, as well as age and health – especially if the payee is unable to work due to a physical or mental condition.
Overall, the court will seek to ensure that both parties are able to maintain the quality of life they enjoyed during the marriage.
Remember that the alimony payments you receive are considered taxable income and you must report them as such. The amount you report should include everything you received in cash payments from your ex, and should match the amount spelled out in your legal separation agreement, divorce agreement or divorce decree.
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