Disputes relating to alimony are among the most common conflicts during the divorce process. People going through a divorce proceeding often ask if they are entitled to alimony or if they will be required to pay spousal support. Alimony laws in Alabama specify certain factors that divorce courts should consider to decide whether one spouse should make alimony payments to the other.
If there’s lingering acrimony between two former spouses after a divorce, that resentment could prompt one spouse to stop making their required alimony payments. Whether you’re involved in an alimony dispute as part of an ongoing divorce or after the divorce has been finalized, getting help from an experienced alimony attorney makes it much easier to resolve the issue.
The Huntsville alimony lawyers at Leigh Daniel Family Law have been helping people navigate family law matters for more than 20 years. We have a detailed knowledge of alimony laws in Alabama that we use to our clients’ advantage. Our attorneys and staff are committed to bringing positive change to our clients’ lives by giving them fair, honest, high-quality legal representation.
If you need the assistance of an Alabama alimony attorney, contact us to schedule a consultation.
Who Is Eligible for Alimony?
Alimony is not required in Alabama divorce cases. If both spouses have similar incomes and earning ability, spousal support may not be a factor. Alimony is awarded at the discretion of the court.
The judge will seek to balance the needs of both spouses, along with any young children from the marriage. The judge will typically weigh a number of factors to decide whether to order one spouse to pay alimony to the other.
- The length of the marriage — If you and your spouse have only been married a few years, you should not assume that you will be awarded alimony, even if you have a much lower income than your spouse.
- The education level of the spouses — If one spouse has advanced degrees or professional certifications and the other spouse does not, the court will take that into consideration. If you have advanced degrees, you are more likely to be readily employable and be in a position to support yourself.
- Fault —T he court will consider who caused the break-up of the marriage. If one spouse had an affair or moved in with someone else before the divorce was finalized, the cheating spouse is not likely to be awarded alimony. Adultery on the part of one spouse can affect how much alimony the court awards.
- Earning ability — The court will consider your employment history and ability to support yourself, even if you haven’t worked in recent years. In some cases, alimony may be awarded until the spouse with lower income returns to school and gets a degree or finds a job.
- Health — If you are in poor health and cannot work because of your health, the court is more likely to award you alimony. On the other hand, the court is less likely to order you to pay alimony if you are in poor health and no longer have the ability to work.
- The age of both spouses — If you are older and less likely to get a good job, you may be more likely to be awarded alimony to help maintain your standard of living after a long marriage. If you are able to get a job and support yourself, you may be less likely to receive alimony.
- Dependent Spouse— If you have been primarily responsible for raising children and have been dependent on your spouse’s income for a length of time, you may be entitled to alimony.
Other factors that a judge may consider in determining spousal support include:
- Whether one spouse reduced their income or career opportunities for the sake of the other or for the benefit of the family
- Any contribution from one spouse to the education or earning ability of the other spouse
- Any excessive or abnormal spending, destruction of property, deception, or fraudulent behavior on the part of either spouse
- Any criminal behavior by one spouse of which the other spouse or a child of the marriage was a victim
Both spouses are potentially eligible to receive alimony payments once divorce proceedings have concluded. The family court judge overseeing the case will decide which spouse will receive alimony, the size of any payments, and how long those payments will last.
Having an experienced Alabama alimony lawyer representing you can make all the difference when it comes to how much you pay or receive in alimony.
What Is Reasonable Alimony?
Generally speaking, the goal of having one spouse pay the other alimony is to maintain the economic status of both spouses after a divorce.
This does not mean that one spouse should support the other in perpetuity, especially if the other spouse can support himself or herself.
In cases where a family court judge decides that one spouse should pay the other alimony, the spouses may disagree on what a reasonable level of financial support should be. Alabama alimony law does not have a formula for determining alimony. It’s decided on a case-by-case basis based on the factors listed above.
When spouses can’t agree on what reasonable alimony is, the court will decide based on information offered by both sides.
How to Settle on Alimony Payments
Any alimony agreement must ultimately be approved by the family court judge overseeing your divorce. However, the judge does not necessarily have to set the terms of that agreement.
If you and your spouse are able to communicate and negotiate in a civil manner with the help of your attorneys, you may be able to reach a mutually acceptable agreement rather than having the court impose one.
A negotiated spousal support agreement generally makes for a shorter and less contentious divorce. It’s crucial to have your lawyer review any alimony agreement before the divorce is concluded.
Once your divorce decree is finalized, it’s difficult to modify, which could leave you at a disadvantage if you find out later that the alimony agreement was unfair. If you cannot work out an agreement on alimony payments with your spouse, the judge may require you and your spouse to try mediation or arbitration to try to reach an agreement.
Who Gets Alimony in a Divorce?
Which spouse, if any, receives alimony in a divorce is determined by the judge overseeing the case. Either the husband or the wife may receive alimony, depending on the specific circumstances of the marriage.
Alimony payments are based on the needs of both spouses as well as each spouse’s ability to pay. The judge will attempt to find a solution that accounts for the needs of everyone involved, including any minor children. If both spouses are working and have roughly equal incomes, then neither spouse may receive alimony.
However, if one spouse earns a significantly higher income than the other or if one spouse has significantly higher expenses, such as the cost of raising young children, the inclusion of an alimony agreement in the divorce decree is more likely.
Modifying or Terminating an Alimony Order
Modifying or terminating an alimony order is difficult, but it can be done. To have an alimony order amended or terminated, the party who seeks to change the agreement must show that there has been a significant change in the material circumstances of one or both former spouses. Some changes that might allow for the modification of an alimony order include:
- A major change in the health, education level, or age of either spouse
- A change in the employment status of the spouse receiving alimony
- A change in either party’s financial situation
- Any event that significantly impacts the ability of a spouse to make alimony payments
There are a few specific circumstances under Alabama law that allow for the termination of an alimony order, including:
- The spouse receiving alimony marries again
- The recipient spouse is cohabitating with another partner
- Either spouse dies
If you have questions about modifying or terminating an alimony order, contact a knowledgeable Huntsville alimony attorney at Leigh Daniel Family Law for help.
Grounds for Rehabilitative Spousal Support
Rehabilitative alimony may be paid for a few months or years to allow a spouse to move back into the job market and support themselves. Under Alabama law, a judge must determine that certain conditions are met before making an order for one spouse to pay rehabilitative or periodic alimony. Those conditions are:
- One spouse lacks a separate estate, or the separate estate isn’t enough to let them live at their pre-divorce economic level
- The other spouse has the ability to pay alimony without suffering undue economic hardship
- The circumstances of the divorce make alimony payments equitable
To help determine whether a spouse should receive alimony, a family court judge overseeing the case will look at factors, such as:
- The assets held by the individual spouses
- The expenses and debts of each spouse once the divorce is complete
- Each spouse’s ability to work and earn a living
- The net income of the spouse who would be required to pay alimony
These conditions leave a great deal of room for interpretation. Having an experienced alimony lawyer represent you can make all the difference when it comes to how much you pay or receive in alimony.
Types of Spousal Support
There are four main types of spousal support payments under Alabama law:
- Interim support – These are payments made by one spouse to the other while the divorce is still ongoing, in cases where the recipient spouse has a serious financial need. This type of alimony automatically ends once the divorce order is finalized.
- Periodic alimony – These are scheduled payments made by one spouse to the other for a fixed period of time. The most common type of periodic alimony is rehabilitative alimony, which is when one spouse makes payments to the other until the recipient spouse can find suitable employment and become self-sufficient. A recent Alabama law limits rehabilitative alimony to five years from the end of the marriage, in most cases, though there are certain exceptions.
- Alimony in gross – In some cases, one spouse may make a larger lump-sum payment to the other instead of spacing payments out over a longer period.
- Permanent alimony – It’s rare for the courts to award one spouse permanent alimony. Generally speaking, the spouses must have been married for at least 20 years, and the recipient spouse must demonstrate a significant financial need for the judge to award permanent alimony. A permanent alimony award can be revoked if the recipient spouse remarries or cohabitates with a romantic partner.
How Long Does Spousal Support Last?
The length of spousal support payments depends on the type of support awarded. Interim support lasts for the duration of divorce proceedings, while most periodic alimony awards are limited to five years from the end of the marriage.
Permanent alimony awards cannot be rescinded except under certain circumstances.
Contact a Huntsville Alimony Lawyer Today
At Leigh Daniel Family Law, our experienced spousal support divorce attorneys will negotiate to settle on an amount of alimony that is fair to you and fits within the guidelines of Alabama alimony law. A spousal support lawyer is available to answer any questions you may have about alimony or other Alabama divorce issues. Our goal is to help our client focus on the future and make a positive change in their lives.
Contact us today to receive a free initial consultation.