If you are getting divorced, and are seeking spousal support, or are expected to pay spousal support payments, there are some important things you’ll want to understand. A family law attorney will be able to walk you through the specifics of your case, but here we’ll provide you with a general overview of aspects of spousal support including the awarding of spousal support, tax laws, and what can happen if spousal support payments are not made.
Defining Spousal Support
Spousal support (also known as alimony) is financial assistance that is only available to those who were legally married. It recognizes a partner’s contribution to the marriage and its goal is to help the recipient achieve financial independence. Rules regarding alimony vary state by state.
Calculating Spousal Support
When a court presides over a spousal support hearing, it weighs a number of factors including: the length of the marriage, the needs of each spouse, the standard of living that was created and maintained during the marriage, any assets, the age of the spouses, numerous other factors, and state specific laws. Your divorce attorney will build your case for spousal support based on your own specific circumstances.
Length of Spousal Support
The duration of spousal support payments is set by the court after it weighs the arguments that have been made. Typically, the length of payments lasts for half the length of a less than 10 years long marriage. For example: a marriage of six years means the spousal support payments will need to be paid for three years.
In longer marriages, a court might not set an a duration for the alimony payments. In that case, it is up to your divorce attorney to prove your side of the case and the duration. You should work with your divorce attorney to establish your side, regardless of if you are paying or receiving payments, and also determine the amount of time you seek. The court will then listen to both arguments, and using common law, decide upon the duration.
Permanent or Lifetime Spousal Support
“Permanent” or “Lifetime” spousal support means support will be paid to the recipient until the death of the one paying, or sometimes until the recipient remarries. While remarriage has been a reason for the end of spousal support payments, that is not always the case, and sometimes a court will rule that a remarriage does not mean the end of the support payments.
As women became a stronger component of the workforce, permanent support began to be rewarded less and less. And now courts rarely award permanent support. One appellate court stated:
“As recognized by our Supreme Court, the public policy of this state has progressed from one which entitled some women to lifelong alimony as a condition of the marital contract of support, to one that entitles either spouse to post-dissolution support for only so long as is necessary to become self-supporting.”
A court will usually require the higher earner, regardless of if they are husband or wife, to assist the lower earner with maintaining the standard of living, at least for a period of time.
Changes in Financial Situation
The duration of spousal support payments can also be dependent on if the spouse receiving the support has a change in their financial standing (as the result of beginning a new job or higher pay). The purpose of spousal support is to ensure financial safeguards for the person receiving them. Therefore, if they no longer need to receive money to help them maintain financial footing, then a court can rule that they are able to support themselves and no longer need the support they have been receiving.
Tax Strategy During Divorce Decisions
If you’re paying or receiving spousal support there are some basic tax laws you need to know and remember both during your divorce proceedings and after.
Bottom line: If you receive spousal support, you must declare it as taxable income . If you’re paying spousal support, you can deduct it. This differs from child support, as child support is not taxable and not deductible.
During the Ruling
You’ll want to remember this rule while you and your spouse are working out alimony agreements, as it does impact your bottom line when it comes to your finances. The final ruling and decision should reflect the intentions you have going into tax time. You might decide to have the paying spouse agree to pay the recipient spouse’s tax liability. A family law attorney should advise you on this during your alimony hearing.
A Helpful Tip
If you’re able to negotiate with your spouse, it might be helpful to try and work out the best tax deal that works for both of you. If you’re in the middle of a litigious divorce and alimony decision, this type of negotiation may be difficult, but it might save you a lot of time and headaches around tax season.
If you receive alimony: plan for the potential tax impact. Your former spouse is not be able to withhold taxes from the support check you receive. That means you will need to account for that when you calculate how much you’ll be paying in taxes. For this reason you might want to consider paying quarterly taxes. That will save you from getting hit at one time come April 15th.
If you are paying alimony: remember you are able to deduct the support payments on your income tax return, but not child support or distribution of property. The IRS often scrutinizes payments made during the first three years you make payments to ensure that you have not disguised your alimony payments as property distribution or other post divorce
Family Law Attorney
Working with a lawyer that understands the ins and outs of the tax repercussions of divorce can help mitigate the confusion both during the agreement hearings and after (once you are actually making the payments).
Falling Behind on Alimony
It’s not an uncommon story: a man or woman falls behind on their alimony payments. This can happen for a number of reasons: loss of job, inability to get a job, or negligence. If you’re the one not receiving the payments, it can have a damaging effect on your entire life. Here’s some information on if your ex fails to make alimony payments.
What’s the Reason?
If you are not receiving court-ordered alimony payments try to find out why. Did your ex recently lose his or her job? Were they injured and are no unable to work? If this is the case, you might want to consider working out a plan to make up lost payments or to make future payments. Working with an attorney on something like this is a great idea as they will be able to provide an unbiased opinion on the situation. You will also have legal proof should you need to take the un-paying spouse to court.
Avoiding Alimony Payment
If your spouse is able to make the payments, and has not suffered a loss or job, or an injury that is keeping them from work, and rather just avoiding their court-ordered obligation, you’ll need to seek legal help. You will need to file a motion with the court asking a judge to order your spouse to pay any past-due past payments. This motion will also include an agreement to keep up with the future payments. You’ll want to work with an experienced family law attorney to draft a persuasive legal motion for this. An attorney will also being able to serve as your representative in court.
Consequences of Not Paying Alimony
Courts have a number punishments or fines for delinquent spouses. While the laws governing the consequences vary from state to state, generally a court will allow the following:
- Holding a spouse in contempt. This can lead to fines and possible jail time.
- Withholding income from the spouse. During this the delinquent spouse’s employer is required to withhold the spousal support amount from the delinquent spouse’s paycheck. That money is then sent directly to the spouse that is supposed to be receiving spousal support.
- Writ of Execution = when a judge awards a portion of the delinquent spouse’s bank accounts and other assets to the receiver spouse.
- If the amount owed is substantial, you are able to ask the court to issue a money judgment for the total amount owed along with interest.
Contact a family law attorney that can help you file a legal action to enforce alimony. A lawyer will be able to ensure you receive the money that is owed to you.
Working with a Family Law Attorney
There are a number of things that need to be considered during a divorce and during a spousal support decision. Working with a skilled attorney can help ensure you get a fair case. For advice on divorce and spousal support you need the expert law firm of Divorce Law LA. Schedule a consultation today.
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Pasadena, Ca. 91106