One important facet involved in the financial side of divorce is the issue of alimony or spousal support. It's a court-ordered payment from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse, and is put in place to limit economic disparity and prevent economic hardship.
In the past, most often alimony was paid to ex-wives, who were homemakers, by their wage-earning husbands. But times have changed. Many, if not most, marriages include two wage earners, and the lines have blurred. The higher-earning spouse can be either one, regardless of gender.
Some things to know about alimony:
Alimony is determined by several factors, including:
- The financial conditions of the two spouses
- The standard of living during the marriage
- The length of the marriage
- The ability of the paying spouse to pay the alimony and still support himself or herself
- The ability of the recipient to get education or training for a job
Alimony may not go on forever. If alimony is awarded, it's not a never-ending free ride. It's often termed "rehabilitative," or, for as long as it takes for the recipient to become self-supporting. Most often, alimony ends if the recipient remarries.
The best course of action for a spouse is to get back into the workforce, upskill with education or training, and get on the road to being self-supportive. Alimony is a temporary bandage, not a permanent solution.
Alimony is different from child support. Child support is mandatory and depends on the non-custodial spouse's income, and the custody agreement, specifically who spends more time with the child or children. However, the amount of alimony (also called spousal support) can be tied to children, to ensure the custodial spouse and children have the same or nearly the same lifestyle as they did during the marriage.
Alimony is subject to change based on changes to your or your spouse's income. If your spouse gets a big promotion or bonus, or if your income is greatly reduced, you can file for a change in the amount of alimony you receive.
Ways to maximize your alimony:
Fill out a detailed, accurate financial statement. Make sure you include all of your monthly expenses. It's easy to overlook some expenses, but take the time to go through your bank statements, checkbook and any other place you have a record of expenses to make sure you list everything that impacts your budget.
Have your financial advisor look over your spouse's financial statement. Oftentimes, spouses facing the likelihood of paying alimony will hide assets, especially if the divorce is acrimonious.
Don't let your emotions guide your behavior and actions. It's an incredibly emotional situation — dividing the assets you and your spouse built together. But that's the process, and you need to put your emotions on the shelf and think about your financial future to make sure you're getting what is fair and right.
Don't forget about Social Security. If you've been married 10 or more years, you are entitled to a portion of your spouse's Social Security benefits when he or she becomes eligible for them.
Before you sign your divorce papers, meet with a financial advisor to ensure that your financial future is on solid ground. At Harbor West, we specialize in guiding clients through the choppy waters of divorce.
This information is provided for general purposes and is subject to change without notice. Every effort has been made to compile this material from reliable sources; however, no warranty can be made as to its accuracy or completeness. Before acting on any of the information, please consult your Financial Advisor for individual financial advice based on your personal circumstances.