Alimony Lawyers in Birmingham, Alabama
While spouses generally don’t have major objections to supporting their minor children when a marriage ends, paying support to each other can be a far more contentious issue. Alimony, also referred to as spousal support, is often one of the most contested aspects of divorce cases.
The spouse paying the alimony might feel as if their connection to their ex is never going to end and that there is an unfair obligation to pay financial support. On the flip side, a spouse that didn’t work during the marriage may not have the opportunities to maintain the same standard of living that they previously had.
Not everyone is entitled to alimony when they get divorced. But Alabama law does award this financial support under certain circumstances. At Kirk Drennan Law, our dedicated Divorce and Family Law Group serves clients on both sides of the fence in matters related to spousal support. If you are dealing with divorce, let us focus on the details and safeguard your interests.
What is Alimony?
In the simplest terms, alimony is financial support paid by one ex-spouse to the other. Alimony can take several forms – paid in gross or as periodic support.
Alimony paid is gross is a one-time payment of an agreed-upon sum. Periodic support is typically a monthly payment to an ex-spouse.
Does Alabama Law Provide for Alimony?
Alabama is one of the many states that allow family law courts to order the payment of alimony. But just because you are getting divorced, the award of spousal support is not automatic.
Assuming one spouse stayed at home during the marriage and didn’t pursue a college education or career, the abrupt change in marital status could impact their ability to be financially self-sufficient or maintain the same standard of living they had during the marriage. In these cases, a court might award short or long-term spousal support.
Every case is different, and alimony matters can be incredibly contentious. If you believe that you are entitled to alimony or shouldn’t have to pay, you should consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney.
Who is Entitled to Alimony in Alabama?
According to Alabama law, the family law courts can award alimony to help an ex-spouse maintain their standard of living following divorce or for “rehabilitative” purposes.
In general, the longer you were married, the greater the chance the courts will consider spousal support. The courts take a number of factors under consideration when making these determinations, and they may not all carry equal weight. Some of the things the courts will consider include:
- The length of your marriage
- The standard of living during the marriage
- The incomes of you and your ex
- The ability of both spouses to be self-supporting
- The age and health of you and your ex
- The cause of the breakdown of your marriage
The courts will consider any number of other contributing factors in its decision. For example, if one spouse dropped out of college to stay home with the children while the other advance their career, the court is likely to award support to the spouse that made the sacrifice.
How Is an Alimony Award Determined?
Unlike child support, Alabama courts don’t use a set formula to determine alimony payments. A judge generally awards alimony based on the need of the spouse requesting it and the ability of the other spouse to pay. More specifically, the courts will consider such factors as:
- Level of income
- Monthly living expenses
- Amount of assets
- Level of debt
As you can see, this isn’t a simple or straightforward process. Not only do you need an attorney that will represent your interests, but also one that will question the financial evidence presented by your spouse to ensure a fair result. If periodic alimony is awarded, it will generally continue until the person receiving the support remarries, becomes self-supporting, cohabitates with someone of the opposite sex, or either spouse passes away.
What is Rehabilitative Alimony in Alabama?
Alabama law also allows for a type of spousal support that is rehabilitative in nature. “Rehabilitative alimony” is meant to provide support to one spouse for a specified period, allowing them to become financially self-supporting. This support might continue until a former spouse obtains suitable employment, earns a college degree, or gets a trade or professional license.
Can Spousal Support Be Awarded Before a Divorce is Final?
There’s a common misconception that alimony is only payable when a divorce decree is signed. When married couples separate, this often creates a financial hardship for one spouse, and the family law courts in Alabama allow a spouse to request temporary support.
The parties must agree to the terms of temporary support, which is something your attorney can help negotiate. Any agreements should be made in writing and filed with the courts.
Modifying an Alimony Award
When ex-spouses have been living apart for a significant period, things can change dramatically. Alabama law allows parties to modify spousal support under certain circumstances.
One or both parties can file a request with the court to raise, lower, or terminate spousal support payments, provided there has been a “material change in the circumstances of one or both parties.” When the court reviews your request, some of the factors they will consider include:
If the party that is receiving alimony remarries, it is common for the court to terminate a spousal support agreement. This is also typically included in most divorce agreements.
Death of Either Party
If either the receiving or paying party passes away, spousal support payments end. This question may come up if the paying party passes away and the surviving party wants to be paid from their estate. When the receiving party passes away, their beneficiaries may wonder if they can receive the spousal support the decedent would have received.
Cohabitation or a Marriage-Like Relationship
In some situations, the party receiving support will try to hide or outright lie about their circumstances to avoid losing their monthly payments. For example, they may live with a partner but avoid marrying. However, Alabama law does allow for the termination of spousal support payments if the receiving spouse lives with a partner and enjoys a marriage-like relationship.
Changes in Health or Education
If the receiving party increases their education in a way that should increase their earning potential, the paying party may have the chance to ask for a reduction. Health changes are also relevant in this situation. If the paying party suffers health problems that significantly decrease their earning potential or drive up their medical costs, the court may see fit to change their spousal support payments accordingly.
Changes in employment status on either side often lead to changes in spousal support payments. When the receiving party increases their income or becomes gainfully employed, they can expect to see a decrease in or termination of payments. If the paying party loses their job or gets demoted, they can often ask the court to lower their payments to a reasonable level.
Different Financial Circumstances
A wide variety of situations can change either party’s financial circumstances. Generally, an increase in the payer’s expenses is a good reason to ask the court for an adjustment in payments. Note, though, that this does not go both ways. The receiving party cannot increase their expenses and then use that as a reason to ask the court for more in alimony.
Tax Implications of Alimony
Pre-2019 Divorce Cases
If your divorce was executed on or before December 31, 2018, you are subject to a different set of laws than those divorcing after that date. Those who reached a divorce agreement before 2019 can deduct any alimony payments they make from their taxes—assuming they meet a list of requirements. The partner receiving alimony payments in this situation has to report their payments as taxable income.
Requirements for Deductible Alimony
For a spousal support payer to deduct their payments on their taxes, they must meet the following requirements:
- Payments must be made subject to a divorce, maintenance, or separation decree
- Payments must be made to a spouse or ex-spouse, or to third parties on behalf of the spouse as included in the divorce decree
- The decree cannot state that the payments are not alimony or spousal support
- Cash or cash-equivalent payments are required
- After the separation or divorce, the payer and payee cannot live in the same house or feel joint tax returns
- Payments cannot be deemed child support
- Payer’s taxes must list the payee’s Social Security number
- Payment obligations must terminate if the recipient dies
As you can see, this agreement heavily benefits the payer and not the payee. While the payee does have the benefit of receiving spousal support, they’re likely to lose a significant amount of their spousal support to taxes. At the same time, the payer enjoys a significant tax benefit simply by following their divorce decree.
Divorce Cases Initiated in 2019 or Later
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed these laws for those divorcing or separating after December 31, 2018. For those who pay alimony, there is no tax deduction for spousal support payments. Those who receive alimony no longer have to report it as taxable income. Note that this also applies to most divorce agreements modified after 2018.
This effectively flips the benefit structure. The spousal support payer loses a huge benefit, particularly if they have a high income and pay a substantial amount of alimony. Under these circumstances, they could be losing out on a huge tax deduction. The alimony recipient now gets to keep all of their spousal support payments without paying federal taxes on them.
Who Wins and Who Loses?
This change put a lot of pressure on those working on getting divorced in 2018. Those who were set to pay alimony had a huge incentive to get their divorce finalized before the end of the year, while those who were set to receive alimony benefited from delaying until the following year.
Any change in divorce law can change how your divorce agreement is negotiated. If you believe you will receive alimony after your divorce, you may lose a significant bargaining chip when your ex-partner cannot deduct their spousal support payments. This may lead them to push harder for lower spousal support payments or encourage them to offer a greater share of assets in exchange for lower alimony.
Speak With a Qualified Alabama Spousal Support Attorney
You may want your ex to pay spousal support or wish to contest an unfair claim for alimony. The skilled family law attorneys at Kirk Drennan Law have decades of experience assisting clients throughout Alabama with matters related to divorce, custody, and spousal support. We can also help with support modifications and filing a contempt petition with the court if your spouse isn’t complying with a court order to pay alimony.
Contact our Birmingham office today at 205-803-3500 or reach us online to schedule your initial consultation.