The Alimony Chronicles, Part 4

The Alimony Chronicles, Part 4

Welcome to the final chapter in our four-part series.  So far we’ve established in The Alimony Chronicles that spousal support is the payment of financial support, either in a lump-sum or periodic payments, from one spouse to another during a legal separation and after divorce. In this series, we’ve looked at the roots of spousal support, and the effects on husbands and wives.

In this, our final chapter, we will recap our previous installments by taking a broader look at alimony – how it works today, and what the future of spousal support may look like.

Changes In Family Law, Divorce Rates, and Average Age of First Marriage

The 1970’s brought dramatic changes in women’s rights and family law. spousal support was no longer automatically granted to the wife. Gender discrimination in awarding spousal support was banned, so alimony was not just for women anymore!

Women entered the workforce in ever-increasing numbers. Pay scales for women began rising. Changes in divorce law, especially the enactment of no-fault divorce in most states, led to a short-lived jump in divorce rates. After a big spike, the U.S. Census Bureau information shows a general leveling off of divorce rates by 2009.

In the 50’s, men were marrying at around 23. By 2009, the average age rose to 28 for men being married for the first time. The age of first marriage for women rose from 20 to 26 for the same time period.

So what does that have to do with alimony today?

Alimony Calculations

In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned that some states have rules for a judge to follow in calculating spousal support. In others, it is up to the discretion of the court. Other common factors include.

1. Ability to Pay

If alimony is on the table for either party, the first thing to be looked into is the person’s ability to pay. The court will determine how much is left from the spouse’s gross pay after deducting mandatory deductions like income taxes and social security.

Not everything coming out of a paycheck will be deducted by the court, so you can’t go by the amount of take-home pay. For example, if money is deducted from a paycheck for voluntary deductions or savings, those may not be considered mandatory deductions and will be included in the allowable total.

2. Ability to Earn

The court will look at the ability of both husband and wife to make a living. And not just how much the person is making now. There is a big difference between someone who can’t work and someone who refuses to get a job. The judge will look into that.

Earning capacity, the ability to make a living in the future, is an important factor in calculating spousal support. On the one hand, the amount of support to be paid is affected by the court’s idea of how much the payer should be earning over time. On the other, the court will also look into the ability and circumstances of the person getting alimony to figure out how long it should take for that person to become self-supportive.

Short-term or rehabilitative support is awarded for a set time period to allow the more dependent spouse to update skills and find employment. At some point the payments will definitely end, so the spouse on the receiving end is motivated to do what it takes to get a job.

In cases of real hardship, the person getting rehabilitative support can ask the court to extend the payment period. Judges will usually not grant an extension without proof of financial hardship. The goal is not to take advantage of the payer.

The paying party can ask to have payments stop before the end of the period ordered if the recipient becomes self-supporting ahead of the established deadline. It works both ways.

3. Custody of Children

While child support is a separate type of award in a divorce case, the custody of the couple’s children is taken into consideration by the court when awarding alimony. The judge may consider the age of the children, the number of children, and any special needs of the children. Also, depending on the circumstances, the court may also look at the cost of daycare if the custodial parent has to work. And if there is daycare available at all.

If the court decides it makes more sense for the custodial parent to stay home, at least for a while, there may be spousal support awarded.

Death and Taxes: Only Two Things Are Certain

Alimony payments stop when one or the other dies. Getting around this requires special terms to be spelled out in the divorce decree. However, if it was the person ordered to pay that dies, the receiving party who is owed unpaid alimony before the payor died can make a claim against the responsible party’s estate for funds owed.

As far as taxes go, spousal support has certain implications for both sides. While payors are eligible for a deduction in the amount of support paid, the recipient must also claim this amount as income. For an up-to-date expert explanation of how the IRS evaluates support payments, see our recent article, Alimony and Taxes, by Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA.

The Future of Spousal Support

Couples today are older, better educated, and more financially stable when they marry. The majority of married women work outside the home. Many of these women make as much or more than the husband.

Women are no longer seen as helpless and dependent. Staying out of the workforce to raise children doesn’t change this. The expectation is that most women are capable of supporting themselves after a divorce.

As in the 1970’s when the no-fault divorce was adopted from state to state, there is a movement growing today to reform legislation, or abolish alimony entirely.

A good example of dramatic reform is the 2014 bill signed by the Governor of New Jersey that made major changes to the way spousal support will be treated going forward in that state. The sweeping changes affect the amount and timing of payments.

  • For divorcing couples married less than 20 years, the period for support payments will not be longer than the length of the marriage except in unusual circumstances.
  • Spousal support can be ended when the paying ex-spouse reaches full retirement age.
  • Support can be terminated if the receiving spouse starts living with a new partner, even if they are not married.

Another example of significant reform is playing out today in Florida, where there is a bill in play that would change Florida’s allowable support  provisions. If passed, the new rules would require all judges to use the same set of formulas based on the length of the marriage and the couple’s income to calculate potential alimony awards, and also includes a provision to assist support payers with a way to determine if the spousal support recipient is avoiding work, or not working to his or her potential.

These are just two examples of the new wave of family law and alimony changes that will impact divorcing couples in coming years. Stay tuned to Guyvorce for divorce support and updates on the latest trends that will affect you.
Each chapter of this series can be read alone. But if you are new to the series, you may want to check out Part 1, where we looked at the earliest examples of family law from ancient times and how that carried through to laws today. Part 2  tackles the evolution of financial support for women. And Part 3 looks at the changing spousal support landscape from a man’s point of view.

 

Alimony is still a hot topic.

Remember to share on your social media.

 


(c) Can Stock Photo / zimmytws

The Alimony Chronicles, Part 1

The Alimony Chronicles, Part 1

Welcome to the Alimony Chronicles. This is the first of a four-part series on the history of spousal support, changes over the years, what you can expect today, and most importantly, how it ain’t what it used to be.

Name That Pain

Alimony, as technically defined, is the legal obligation of one spouse to provide financial support to the other during a separation or after a divorce. It’s different from child support, although both spousal and child support payments may be ordered by the court simultaneously.

How It All Began

Contrary to what popular belief may be, it wasn’t somebody’s ticked off wife (or even her mother) who came up with the idea of alimony.

Some of the earliest examples of family law come from ancient Babylon and were discovered carved into a stone slab from 1754 BC when King Hammurabi decreed that if a man wanted to leave a wife who had borne him children, he had to continue to give her a portion of his income, crops and property while she raised them.

Once their kids were grown, he had to provide her a final settlement that was equal to the value of one son.

There were rules for the woman, too. The wife was bound by the law that only after her children were grown was she allowed to “marry the man of her heart”.

Fast Forward Several Thousand Years to English Law

Many old English laws grew from the Code of Hammurabi. The US was formed and its founders brought with them their legal code. In short, a lot of our laws hatched from that ancient text.

One of which was this:

  • A man had a duty to support his wife until the marriage ended.
  • He could leave his wife, but had to continue by law to provide her with financial support.
  • Because marriage did not end until death, those payments had to continue until one of them died.

American Alimony

Actual divorce was allowed by the 19th century but only in cases of serious wrong-doing, like infidelity.

The rules started changing to protect women from situations where the husband had done something terrible and left her in the lurch after the marriage ended. On the other hand, if the wife’s behavior caused the divorce, she gave up the right to ask for money from the husband.

In the United States, as the country’s economy prospered (and men had much bigger paychecks), it was more and more common for women to receive permanent alimony after a divorce. It was especially true if the woman was a stay-at-home wife and mother.

This is the kind of spousal support often depicted in books and movies.

No-Fault Divorce

As women became more self-sufficient and became employed outside the home, family law shifted. Women’s lib brought about an era of wives with jobs, separate income streams, and the no-fault divorce. Judges automatically ordering alimony was no longer an ordinary practice.

Today, almost all 50 states have crafted laws granting some option for a no-fault divorce. Meaning that a quickie divorce can be granted if both the husband and wife agree that they no longer get along and have been living apart for a certain period of time.

Despite the option for an easy way out of an uncomfortable marriage, there are still divorces today based on “fault”. And although it doesn’t always factor into the equation, payments to the ex can be awarded in divorces despite fault.

Types of Alimony: It’s Not Just for Women Anymore

Several types were created to accommodate various types of situations. Here are a few.

  • Temporary

Temporary alimony is court-ordered support payments to be paid before the divorce is finalized and while the couple is separated.

  • Permanent

Permanent support is paid by the former spouse who earned higher income during the marriage. It is paid until one of them dies or the recipient remarries or cohabitates with someone new.

  • Short-Term

In this scenario, the higher-earning former spouse pays the lower-earning one for a predetermined period of time in order to allow him or her to get a job or complete an educational or training program.

  • Reimbursement

Reimbursement alimony is money ordered to be paid back to the other spouse for expenses incurred during their marriage (like educational expenses).

For example, if the husband worked to support them both while the wife went to medical school, he may be awarded some reimbursement for his efforts that led to her success.

  • Lump-Sum

Lump-sum alimony is a form of marriage settlement where one spouse pays the other a one-time payment rather than periodic support payments or instead of dividing property the couple may have gotten during the marriage.

Each State Differs on Spousal Support

Alimony is dealt with differently in each state.

Some judges use complex formulas under statutory laws. Thus giving each side an idea of what that would look like going into a divorce proceeding.

Statutes in a few states are “silent,” with no specific rules set on spousal support. Leaving it entirely to the judge’s discretion can lead to a slug-fest in court. Both sides work hard to influence the decision.

In no-fault proceedings, monetary awards or property division decisions aren’t influenced by the couple’s marital behavior.

However, in a few places (even in no-fault proceedings), if your wife is already shacked up with her boyfriend she can kiss the idea of alimony goodbye, and vice-versa!

Other Factors

You may already know the more common factors affecting spousal support rulings by the court, such as:

  • The age of the couple
  • Length of the marriage

Very young people and those married less than two years are not typically awarded alimony. Granted, there are exceptions.

Marriages of ten years or more are much more likely to involve some form of support upon divorcing. Some states count the beginning of the separation as the end of the marriage, but some states do not recognize separation at all.

Judges think highly of one’s standard of living. They will order spousal support to help the couple avoid a dramatic, post-divorce reduction in lifestyle. Income disparities between partners get looked at closely in an aim to help both partners continue the same standard of living they enjoyed together.

Alimony may be awarded if one of the spouses is expected to have a significant increase in future income, like the earlier example of a doctor whose spouse put him through medical school and who will likely command a large increase in salary when his practice is established.

The state of each person’s health is another factor. If the husband or wife is mentally or physically ill and may not be able to work, the court will not want to leave that person destitute.

Yours, Mine and Ours

As our series continues, we will explore the how’s and why’s of spousal support from the wife’s viewpoint, the husband’s viewpoint, and then look at the nuts and bolts of alimony and how it affects both parties.

 

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(c) Can Stock Photo / swisshippo

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What To Do When Your Spouse Dies Before Your Divorce Is Final

What To Do When Your Spouse Dies Before Your Divorce Is Final

I’ve known several widows and widowers. When your spouse dies, there’s a commonly-shared thread linking them together. No matter the gender, each carried a look on their faces. It read, “I lived through losing half of me.”

Until you’re there, gripped by the swampy muck of grief and sorrow, it’s unbelievable. Death of a spouse isn’t just a one-time-and-now-it’s-over thing. It lingers. When your spouse dies, it reminds you of your own mortality.

Others, who lose their spouses while going through the divorce process to suddenly find it no longer necessary,  still have to deal with the finality of it all. All marriages will end, either by death or divorce. There are things you need to know about grief, family, and finances that will help you get through it when your spouse dies before the divorce is final.

Grieving the Wife You Were Divorcing

The death of a spouse is traumatic. Dealing with the death of someone you were once close to is already tough, and your reaction will be even more complicated by the timing and cause of death. Death may end a marriage after a long illness, or abruptly through accident, illness, or suicide.

When Your Spouse Dies After Prolonged Illness

It’s Gonna Hurt

There are bound to be strong emotions when your spouse passes away, even if your pending divorce was “civil”. It is way more difficult to handle the death of someone with whom you have a rocky or difficult relationship.

If you and your wife are no longer on speaking terms, although not yet formally divorced, you will be surprised by your strong feelings about her pending death, even if there is no love remaining in your marriage.

You might have had a hard time deciding if you should go see her, or she may have made it clear she wants nothing to do with you.

When your wife has been sick for a long time, watching her decline will take its toll on family members, even from a distance. When death comes, it is common to feel some relief.

You can be relieved that she isn’t struggling or in pain, but you might also be relieved that it’s finally over. That sense of relief may be followed by guilt. It can be easy to feel guilty about your relief that your wife is gone. However, it is best to acknowledge that twinge of guilt, and just let it go. Your feelings are perfectly normal and understandable.

If you are consumed by guilt, especially if you are second-guessing your role in the final weeks and months of her life, it is important for you to get perspective on the events leading to your wife’s death.  

It is normal to wish and even pray for everything to just be over in the final days, but your thoughts did not “rush” her death. Speak to your wife’s doctor, a counselor, or your pastor about your questions. They will respect your concerns and provide reassurance that you did not cause or hasten her death.

You Hate Her Guts and She’s Dying – What Do you Tell the Kids?

If you are separated from your wife in a contentious split, and there are children involved, your stress and anger will be through the roof.

Take a deep breath and hold back. Your kids need you to protect them, even if it means protecting them from your feelings about their mother.

Grief counseling is always a good idea for kids losing a parent, but in a situation where you hate their mom, you should get professional help on how to guide and support your children through the loss of their mother.  

You can get help through social services, pastoral care, or your local hospice organization. Hospice services for grief and bereavement counseling are generally available to anyone who is facing a pending death or grieving a loss that has already occurred.

Hospice services may be available to you for free, even if your spouse is not a hospice patient, or if she is a patient in a hospice program in another community.

When children are involved, don’t wait until there are behavioral problems.  Be proactive and get the counseling support you’ll need to help them before and after your spouse dies.

When Your Wife Dies Unexpectedly

Whether from an acute illness, accident or suicide, the unexpected death of a spouse will rock your world.  Even if you were separated, you may be involved in making final arrangements for burial or cremation and a funeral. The initial days following an unexpected death may go by in a fog. Let your family and friends help you, especially if you have children.

There is no right or wrong about the way you will feel. Take your time and understand that profound sadness or anger may come in waves. Crying is normal, and the necessary component to bereavement. Even the strongest man sheds tears of grief. There is no timeline, and often you’ll find there’s no rhyme or reason to the things that can trigger a wave of grief.

When a Marriage is Ended by Suicide

The confusion, guilt, and grief that follows the suicide of a spouse can be totally overwhelming. The emotions that you feel in the situation surrounding the suicide may be especially complicated if you and your spouse were separated at the time of her suicide.

The majority of suicides are the result of severe depression or related mental health issues. You may be slammed with all the emotions of any other grieving person, with the added burden of wondering if you or other family members somehow failed to recognize the symptoms or prevent the suicide.

Custody of Your Kids if Your Wife Dies

In a lot of states, the custodial right – meaning who the children will live with – automatically goes to the surviving parent. But that is not every state, and you may have to go to court if you want to have permanent custodial rights over your children, especially if your wife had full custody before she died.

Your settlement or legal custody plans will be important for the court to consider if there are any challenges to you having the primary custody of your kids, but will not make it a slam dunk.

For example, in Georgia, the law provides for children to go to the other parent after death, but in this case it happened differently. The dad was the parent who had custody of the child. In the separation agreement and divorce decree, it was spelled out that both parents wanted the child to go to the aunt if the father died. After he died, the mother tried to get full custody and so did the aunt. The courts ultimately determined that the aunt should have custody, not because of the divorce decree, but because the mother was found to be unfit due to addiction problems.    

Property and Financial Issues When Death Ends the Marriage

Don’t assume that your wife’s property and assets automatically go to you if she dies without a will. There are some states where a pending divorce action causes the state to holds onto the deceased spouse’s property until a decision is made on distribution to her estate or otherwise.

If there is a will, a trust, or probate must be opened, you should consult an attorney. Remember that attorneys are specialized, just like doctors. Start with the attorney representing you in the pending divorce for relevant clauses that may be in your separation agreement. For probate questions, your best bet is to talk to an experienced estate attorney in your area.

Even if your wife had no children, and she didn’t have real estate or valuable belongings, there may still be valuable assets to consider. Did she have life insurance through her employer? Did she have a 401K or other type of retirement or pension plan? Some types of plans may have spousal benefits after death.

Tell Us Your Story

Do you have questions or knowledge about marriages ending in death?  Please share your story in the comments below.

For related Guyvorce articles on death, grieving, wills, and estate issues check out Defining Beneficiaries In Your Post-Divorce Will And Estate Plans and The 5 Stages of Grieving a Relationship after Divorce.

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