What is spousal support or alimony?
Spousal support is financial support paid by one spouse to the other. It can be by court order pending a final hearing, or part of a final divorce decree. In Maine, we don't refer to it as "alimony" any longer. The term "spousal support" replaced the term "alimony" in1997. They mean the same thing though.
What does a court consider in determining if an award of spousal support is justified?
The list of numerous factors that a court must consider in deciding if spousal support is appropriate is set forth in Title 19-A M.R.S.A. § 951-A (5). Some of the more important ones are: the ability of each party to pay, their ages, education, employment history and potential, income history and potential, retirement and health insurance benefits, their health, the tax consequences of a spousal support award, the contributions of either party as homemaker or contributions to the education or earning potential of the other party, economic misconduct, the standard of living the parties had during the marriage, the ability of the person seeking support to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time, and basically any other factors the court considers appropriate.
How is the amount calculated?
This is where it gets tricky, because – unlike child support that is calculated in Maine according to a set formula -- there are no specific guidelines for the award of spousal support. Judges look at the length of the marriage and all those other factors previously listed.
Is spousal support always ordered when the parties have substantially different incomes?
No. As noted in Title 19-A M.R.S.A. § 951-A, there is a rebuttable presumption that general support may not be awarded if the parties were married for less than 10 years as of the date of the filing of the action for divorce. In other words, if you're getting a divorce and you've been married for less than 10 years, absent unusual circumstances, it's not likely that the court will order spousal support no matter how different your incomes.
There is also a rebuttable presumption that general spousal support may not be awarded for a term exceeding 1/2 the length of the marriage if the parties were married for at least 10 years but not more than 20 years as of the date of the filing of the action for divorce. If you were married for 14 years, for example, spousal support typically wouldn't last for more than 7 years.
If you were married for longer than 20 years, spousal support can be for any length of time.
You must keep in mind that these are just presumptions. If the court for one reason or another feels that they shouldn't apply in your divorce situation, then the judge can throw them out and do whatever he or she thinks is fair in your case.
Can spousal support be ordered paid in addition to child support?
Oh, yes – and that's often the case.
Is spousal support available to men as well as to women?
Yes, the statute doesn't make a distinction between men or women. As you might expect, women obtain spousal support more often than men.
Can you ask for spousal support after you've been divorced?
Maybe. If your original divorce judgment did not provide for alimony or spousal support, then you're out of luck – you can't ask for it at a later. But if the original divorce judgment included an award of alimony or spousal support – even if the award was for just $1.00 per year (which used to be a common provision) – then you may be able to request spousal support depending on your situation.
Are there different types of spousal support?
- General support;
- Transitional support;
- Reimbursement support;
- Nominal support; and
- Interim support.
These are explained generally in the statute cited above (Title 19-A M.R.S.A. § 951-A). In addition, I'll be writing more about them in future posts.