Alimony is a payment or series of payments by one spouse to his or her former spouse enabling the receiving spouse to enjoy a better lifestyle than would be possible without the alimony.
The topic of alimony is often one of the most challenging aspects of a divorce. Alimony, it seems, isn’t always about the money – but more about the past, resentment or regret about decisions that were made many years ago when the marriage was happy, and fear. I’m sensitive to the emotions associated with paying or receiving alimony and encourage clients to focus on an alimony plan that is financially sound and future based.
Term and Amount
Typically, an alimony award contains two main parts a) the term or duration of the alimony and b) the amount of the alimony. Usually, but not always, alimony will terminate upon the death of either spouse or the remarriage of the alimony recipient. More often than not, either the alimony term or amount may be modified upward or downward after the divorce if either spouse experiences substantial post-divorce changes in their lives.
The law says that “At the time of entering the [divorce], the Superior Court may order either of the parties to pay alimony to the other…”. But the law doesn’t provide an alimony formula or specific rule for determining either the duration or amount.
For example, contrary to what many people believe, there is no requirement that an alimony term must be half the length of the marriage. And in Connecticut one spouse isn’t entitled to alimony just because the other spouse earns twice as much.
For couples choosing traditional adversarial divorce, the focus is on the so called statutory criteria – trying to guess what a judge would order after hearing evidence at trial and considering the following factors:
- Length of the marriage
- Causes for the divorce (sometimes called “fault”)
- Age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, earning capacity, vocational skills, education, employability, estate, and needs of each of the spouses
- Property division orders
- Desirability of the custodial parent’s securing employment
In Connecticut, the trial judge has tremendous discretion in how he or she weighs these factors. And judges vary sometimes extraordinarily from one to the next in how they analyze the alimony piece of a divorce case. As a result, people may feel compelled to overstate their expenses, understate their income or vilify the other spouse – to do anything to gain an advantage with the judge.
In mediation and collaborative cases, yes, the law matters. But the law serves as a tool or a reality check rather than a weapon to be used by warring spouses.
Mediation and collaborative clients are not limited to considering what a court is permitted to or might consider important. For this reason, mediated and collaborative settlements are typically better suited for the particular family involved since a) the solutions are created by the spouses for their own family, b) the spouses are not hampered by the same restraints applicable to judges, and c) the alimony plan can reflect the factors the spouses value whether or not included in the statutory criteria. Note for example what is not in the legal list- income tax impact, Title IX or estate planning considerations such as planning for grandchildren, extended family needs and relationships, cultural values.