By Andrea Johnson
In many states, there is no hard and fast method of calculating alimony payments. And to be quite frank, estimating what a judge may do is often fruitless.
Because the laws of many states allow so much judicial discretion in calculating alimony, the methods and manners for determining whether alimony is appropriate and/or how much alimony should be paid may vary from court to court.
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Let me provide you with a typical case study:
Husband and Wife met in college. Both graduated from college with bachelor’s degrees in accounting. They married after graduation when Husband was 23 and Wife was 22 years old. Both parties began working in accounting immediately after graduation.
Wife stopped working at the birth of the parties’ first child and has been a stay at home mom since. Husband is now 35 years old and earns approximately $106,000. Wife is 34 and stays at home with their two young children.
Question: Will Husband have to pay alimony? How much? For how long will have to pay?
Answer: Yes, Husband will likely have to pay alimony and the answers to the remaining questions may vary depending on a number of factors.
The court will generally consider such factors as:
Marriage length: In cases where the parties have been married for less than five (5) years, it is unlikely that a court will award alimony on a final basis, at least in the state I practice in, Georgia. That does not, however, mean that there is an absolute rule that there is no alimony award for short marriages, nor does it mean that temporary alimony may not be awarded
Financial resources of each party: The court will consider whether Wife has financial resources other than Husband’s income with which to support herself. For example, if Husband did provide the financial support for the family, but Wife had a $2 million savings account that had not been touched during the course of the marriage, the court may not choose to award alimony to Wife because she has resources off of which she may support herself until she acclimates herself into the workforce.
Time needed to acquire training or education to re-enter the workforce: The court definitely contemplates how long it will take Wife to get herself into the work force. In the scenario mentioned, Wife earned a bachelor’s degree and gained some work experience. However, it has been many since she was last employed.
In today’s economy, it is extremely difficult to find work, even when your most recent experience was just a few months ago. The courts do recognize the difficulty in obtaining work and will contemplate this in alimony awards.
A high unemployment rate makes it undeniable that getting work is difficult. Plus, the high unemployment rate does not include people like Wife, who are voluntarily not working. This number is the percentage of people who are looking for work and cannot find it. The court will likely allow somewhere between three and seven years of alimony payments in the scenario above.
Each spouse's earning capacity: In the scenario above, Wife has the ability earn at the rate of a professional. She has a bachelor’s degree and some work experience. She, however, certainly does not have the earning capacity of Husband given that Husband is currently in the work force and has been for many years.
Some judges will equalize the parties’ income (before the consideration of child support) and then allow for a drop down of the support after time periods allowing for Wife to re-establish herself into the workforce.
Contributions to the marriage: The courts definitely consider a stay at home spouse’s work toward supporting the house.
A court can order temporary alimony while the divorce is pending. Most alimony is ordered for a specific length of time. Though conduct can bar permanent alimony, it is possible for the court to enter an award for temporary alimony, even when conduct may otherwise not order it on a permanent basis.
So if you have been the primary provider for your spouse and children and your spouse is not able to support herself, you probably will have to pay some form of spousal support.
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Andrea M. Johnson is a Senior Attorney in the Atlanta, Georgia office of Cordell & Cordell, where she practices domestic relations exclusively. Ms. Johnson is licensed to practice law in the state of Georgia. Ms. Johnson was born in the metro-Atlanta area and has spent most of her life in Georgia. She received her Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia in 1998. Ms. Johnson received her Juris Doctor from Mercer University School of Law in 2002. Since graduating from law school, Ms. Johnson has practiced in the area of family law. Additionally, she has worked in general civil practice, immigration, and estate planning. Ms. Johnson has briefed two cases successfully before the Georgia Court of Appeals, one of which was a modification of custody action.