Alimony: Substantial Support Or Substantial Maintenance?
Interviewer: Okay, let’s talk about alimony. Is it called alimony, or is it called substantial support or substantial maintenance?
Anitha Johnson: Well, they’re interchangeable.
Interviewer: Okay, so we could use all those terms?
Anitha Johnson: Yes.
Interviewer: How is that calculated? How does it work?
Anitha Johnson: The court looks at several factors. One of them is the ability of the party who’s seeking alimony to be self-supporting. I would say just because one spouse makes more money than the other spouse, that doesn’t mean that they would necessarily get alimony because the court is not looking for them to be equal. You don’t have to be equal. Then the court looks at the party’s standard of living that was established during the marriage. For instance, the husband allowed the wife to sit at home and not work for fifteen years and she doesn’t have skills at this point. That’s how he established that he is the primary breadwinner and it may be likely depending on the circumstances that the court would allow that standard of living, if he’s able to support his wife while also supporting himself.
So there’s a whole list of factors like age and health, whether the person is of an age where their employability is decreased, whether their health condition maybe makes them unable to work, whether they can seek or obtain sufficient training education in a short period of time that would increase their ability to find suitable employment. The duration of the marriage makes a difference. And I would say one of the big factors that I look at is whether the party who has to pay alimony can afford to pay alimony while still managing their own needs.
Interviewer: Is there a limit that alimony will hit? Or it goes high as it wants to go?
Anitha Johnson: It just depends on the factors that the court decides are important: need and ability to pay. It can be indefinite or it could be for a period.
Interviewer: So alimony could be forever for some cases?
Anitha Johnson: Yes. The duration of the marriage and the health and certain situations, like when someone’s 50-years-old already and they don’t have any skills, then the court could find that they need alimony for the rest of their lives.
Interviewer: Okay. What if there’s a situation where one spouse is getting alimony but they just refuse to do anything to get a job or to learn a skill? Can you have it modified or taken away at some point?
Anitha Johnson: Yes. But alimony will be either for a period of time where the person gets their education or some type of rehabilitation like rehabilitative alimony.
Anitha Johnson: So it depends on the terms or it’s indefinite. Sometimes it’s not really necessary for the other side to fully get back on their feet if enough time has passed. It just depends on what the order says.
Interviewer: How does this play on the division of assets? Do people trade alimony for assets? Can you do that? Give more assets instead of alimony?
Anitha Johnson: And vice versa. The award of alimony would also depend on other things the court is going to award, so if we have significant assets and the court is already awarding one party a million dollars in investments and settlement and real property, then there wouldn’t be a need for the court to award alimony.
Interviewer: Okay. I know it depends on the situation, but is there a [path on income] that alimony tends to never to rise above?
Anitha Johnson: No.
Interviewer: Have you seen 50% of someone’s income, or 70%, or do they just stay in the lower ranges?
Anitha Johnson: The answer to everything is that it depends, but you are not allowed to garnish someone’s wages. There’s an allowable percentage for child support. And I don’t know that number.
Interviewer: What’s the typical range or percentage of income they pay?
Anitha Johnson: It’s not really percentage because it just depends. It depends on your bills or your income, a lot of different factors. I’ve never really analyzed the percentage.
Interviewer: Has anyone been put in the “poor house” because of it or will the court make sure that you can still live yourself if you only pay what is enough?
Anitha Johnson: Yes, that’s one of the main factors. A person has to have the ability to pay while meeting their own needs.