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Spousal Support: Til Death Do Us Part

Spousal Support: Til Death Do Us Part

Spousal Support (aka Alimony) is one of the toughest conversations to have in a divorce settlement. Why? Because it continues to connect the spouses even after the divorce is final.  Divorce is a financial transaction that sets each spouse up to be independent financial entities. Except for spousal support.  Spousal support continues to connect the spouses through monthly payments of some amount and for a specified amount of time, the longest being until one spouse dies.

Why does it exist and why do I have to pay it? Well, it started in the late 1800s when women didn’t work outside the home primarily, and consequently as a protection for women if their husbands left them after a longterm marriage in which the children were raised and the husband wandered into other relationships. Alimony was designed to allow a divorced women to have some means of support in the culture at that time.

Fast forward to today when women can easily earn more than their husbands and can be the ones being requested for financial support. Spousal support isn’t gender-specific; it’s income specific. In today’s culture it’s a way of equalizing the standard of living for both spouses after the marriage. But there are so many contributing factors to how spousal support is granted, the length of time it can be paid, and the amount of money it can be.

All states are slightly different in how alimony is viewed, calculated, and authorized. Suffice it to say that, in general, these factors are considered:

.Length of marriage

.Educational level of recipient

.Ability for the recipient to reenter the job market

.Age of recipient

.Each spouses earning capacity

.Property and assets accumulated for each spouse

.Debts by each spouse

.Size of financial settlement

.Contribution of each spouse towards the marriage, like monetary versus child-rearing

.Mental and physical health condition of recipient

.Prenuptial agreement

.Business entities of each spouse, including shared ones

.Accustomed lifestyle

There are four types of alimony: 1) Temporary (from the time there are two households until a more permanent number or arrangement is negotiated; 2) Permanent (the amount and number of years negotiated for the settlement; 3) Lump Sum (one large payment as opposed to monthly amounts for a number of years; and, 4) Rehabilitative (a negotiated number of years until the recipient obtains education and training to be self-supporting).

Men aren’t generally thrilled to pay spousal support, but women are having a very hard time being the payors as it is still a cultural phenomenon in which women out-earn men.  Men are used to being the payors. They may not like it, but it’s part of the stereotypical fabric of divorce. What I hope men can be empathetic to is the time women spend being the managers of the family while men provide the income for the family, if this was the way both spouses defined their roles early on in the marriage.  This decision to pull women out of the workforce for a number of years has to be taken into consideration. And, women, even though alimony is there to help you maintain a decent lifestyle and compensate you for the role of family managers, your ability to support yourself as soon as possible, will be a freedom that should bring you enormous joy. Don’t use spousal support as punishment to your spouse; use it to help you get through the transition into being single and sole-supporting.  It’s a no-win game because your ex-husband can go back to court and ask for it to be revisited.  Protect yourself financially by negotiating it, and do your best, if possible, to grow your own income to experience financial freedom and independence.

It’s complicated. It’s fraught with emotion. It may feel unjust, or it may feel completely justifiable. Each relationship is different in how alimony is viewed and assigned. Best advice is to be honest with each other, be responsible to each other, and be as self-aware as possible in how the marriage was structured as you begin to unwind the financial aspect of the marriage into a financial settlement that reflects the hopes and dreams you once had, and the overall condition of the marriage.

Check out Kelly Clarkson’s spousal support journey from $200,000 a month for temporary support to $150,000 for permanent, to the unraveling of the prenup. Now how does your payment of $1,500 a month sound?  Everything is relative.