What is Alimony?
Alimony is a legal obligation imposed by court order upon one spouse in a separate maintenance action or divorce action to provide financial support for the other spouse. Through an alimony award the court can require that one ex-spouse continue to provide financial support to the other ex-spouse so that the alimony recipient can maintain the standard of living (or close to that standard of living) that the ex-spouse enjoyed during the marriage.
Alimony is also sometimes called “spousal support” or “spousal maintenance,” but often a court may distinguish between alimony and spousal support by calling “alimony” an amount of money a court orders one ex-spouse to pay the other ex-spouse and calling “spousal support” an amount of money a court orders one spouse to pay the other spouse on a temporary orders or “pendent lite” basis while a divorce or separate maintenance case is pending in the court.
Alimony and Child Support Are Different Things
Keep in mind that alimony and child support are different things. Child support and alimony are two separate financial obligations created for two separate purposes. While the purpose of alimony is to provide financial support for the former spouse after divorce, child support is an obligation for the financially support of their children after divorce.
Factors that Affect Whether Alimony is Awarded and If So, How Much is Awarded and for How Long
Alimony is not awarded in every divorce. Whether alimony is awarded depends on many factors.
Utah has no fixed formula for determining how much alimony should be paid and for how long. In Utah alimony may be ordered to last for a period equal to the entire length of the marriage (for example: if the marriage lasted for 8 years, one spouse may be required to pay alimony for the next 8 years following the divorce). In other cases alimony may be ordered for a period shorter than the marriage (in some cases a much shorter period), with the court awarding the alimony recipient alimony long enough to help the recipient get education or job training with the goal of the alimony recipient becoming financially independent and able to support himself/herself.
Factors that may improve one’s chances of obtaining an alimony award are found in Utah Code § 30-3-5(8):
- the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse;
- the recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income, including the impact of diminished workplace experience resulting from primarily caring for a child of the payor spouse;
- the ability of the payor spouse to provide support;
- the length of the marriage (alimony is more likely to be awarded in divorce cases where the parties have been married around 10 years or more (but even in very short marriages alimony can be awarded, but alimony awarded at the end of short-term marriages is rare and exceptional);
- whether the recipient spouse has custody of a minor child requiring support;
- whether the recipient spouse worked in a business owned or operated by the payor spouse; and
- whether the recipient spouse directly contributed to any increase in the payor spouse’s skill by paying for education received by the payor spouse or enabling the payor spouse to attend school during the marriage.
- the fault of a party or of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and the duration of the alimony award.
- “Fault” means any of the following wrongful conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage relationship:
- engaging in sexual relations with a person other than the party’s spouse;
- knowingly and intentionally causing or attempting to cause physical harm to the other party or a minor child;
- knowingly and intentionally causing the other party or a minor child to reasonably fear life-threatening harm; or
- substantially undermining the financial stability of the other party or the minor child.
- As a general rule, the court should look to the standard of living, existing at the time of separation, in determining alimony; however, the court must consider all relevant facts and equitable principles and may, in the court’s discretion, base alimony on the standard of living that existed at the time of trial.
- In marriages of short duration, when no child has been conceived or born during the marriage, the court may consider the standard of living that existed at the time of the marriage.
- In determining alimony when a marriage of short duration dissolves, and no child has been conceived or born during the marriage, the court may consider restoring each party to the condition which existed at the time of the marriage.
- The court may, under appropriate circumstances, attempt to equalize the parties’ respective standards of living.
- When a marriage of long duration dissolves on the threshold of a major change in the income of one of the spouses due to the collective efforts of both, that change shall be considered in dividing the marital property and in determining the amount of alimony. If one spouse’s earning capacity has been greatly enhanced through the efforts of both spouses during the marriage, the court may make a compensating adjustment in dividing the marital property and awarding alimony.
Alimony may not be ordered for a duration longer than the number of years that the marriage existed unless, at any time before termination of alimony, the court finds extenuating circumstances that justify the payment of alimony for a longer period of time (Utah Code § 30-3-5(8)(j)).
Unless a decree of divorce specifically provides otherwise, any order of the court that a party pay alimony to a former spouse automatically terminates upon the remarriage or death of that former spouse. However, if the remarriage is annulled and found to be void ab initio, payment of alimony shall resume if the party paying alimony is made a party to the action of annulment and the payor party’s rights are determined (Utah Code § 30-3-5(9)).
Alimony terminates upon establishment by the party paying alimony that the former spouse, after the order for alimony is issued, cohabits with another person, even if the former spouse is not cohabiting with another person when the party paying alimony files the motion to terminate alimony, so long as the party ordered to pay alimony petitions to terminate alimony no later than one year from the day on which the party knew or should have known that the former spouse has cohabited with another person (Utah Code § 30-3-5(10)(a) and (b)).
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