Alimony is defined as the legal obligation of a person to provide financial support to his or her spouse upon divorce or separation. This definition can mean a lot of different things depending on which side you are on and where you reside. Except in rare exceptions, nobody on either side of a spousal support or alimony issue is ever satisfied. For those seeking alimony, the amount may never seem like enough. Those ordered to pay alimony contend too much is demanded. Both are right, and both are wrong. The issue of alimony can be further complicated by varying laws in different states.
How alimony is determined
As in most states, alimony, or spousal support or spousal maintenance as it is also known, is awarded in Utah in a divorce action regardless of age, sex, gender, etc. Alimony may be ordered on a temporary basis, pending trial, and for extended duration following entry of the Decree of Divorce. Either party in a divorce procedure may request and may be granted alimony depending on the circumstances of the parties and the reason for the separation.
There are a number of factors that determine how and to whom spousal support is granted. These include, but are not limited to:
- the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse;
- the recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income;
- the ability of the payor spouse to provide support;
- the length of the marriage; the longer the marriage, the greater the likelihood of an alimony award;
- whether the recipient spouse has custody of minor children 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 allowing the payor spouse to attend school during the marriage.
Though not as common, the fault of the parties involved may also be considered in determining alimony.
The amount of alimony awarded is based on a number of factors as determined by the court. This can include, but not limited to, the standard of living experienced by the spouses, the duration of the marriage, financial situations, and ability of parties involved to fulfill alimony requirements.
As a general rule, the Utah courts look to the standard of living which exists at the time of separation in determining alimony; however, the court must consider all relevant facts and equitable principles and, in its discretion, may base alimony on the standard of living that exists at the time of trial. In marriages of short duration, when no children have been conceived or born during the marriage, the court may consider the standard of living that existed at the time of the marriage. Under appropriate circumstances, the court may attempt to equalize the parties’ respective standards of living, but is not required to do so.
Along with standard of living considerations, the amount awarded will depend on the financial needs of both parties, and the reasonable ability of the payor spouse to fulfill the requirements of the alimony. The court will request financial statements from both spouses, and determine the financial needs and conditions of both parties. The court will then consider the income and debts of the payor spouse and make the judgment accordingly.
More complex nuances of the financial situations of the spouses may also be considered. For instance, 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. Or, 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.
In Utah, the income of any subsequent spouse of the payor may not be considered in determining alimony except that the court may consider the subsequent spouse’s financial ability to share living expenses. The court may consider the income of a subsequent spouse if the court finds that the payor’s improper conduct justifies that consideration.
The court has continuing jurisdiction to make substantive changes and new orders regarding alimony based on a substantial material change in circumstances not foreseeable at the time of the divorce. The court may not modify alimony or issue a new order for alimony to address needs of the recipient that did not exist at the time the decree was entered, unless the court finds extenuating circumstances that justify that action.
Length of time
Alimony may be ordered on a temporary basis, pending trial, as well as for a longer period after entry of the Decree of Divorce. Temporary alimony may be granted at the discretion of the court during proceedings before the entry of the Decree of Divorce. Short-term alimony may be granted for the receiving parties who require financial assistance while they gain necessary skills.
Typically, the duration of the alimony may not be ordered for a duration longer than the number of years that the marriage existed. At any time prior to termination of alimony, though, the court may find extenuating circumstances that justify the payment of alimony for a longer period of time. This can include any situation in which the former spouse has incurred significant needs, especially if those needs were incurred as a result of the payor spouse’s actions.
There are various circumstances in which the order to pay alimony can be terminated. For example, unless the degree of divorce specifies otherwise, any order to pay alimony to a former spouse will automatically terminate upon the remarriage or death of that former spouse. If the remarriage is annulled and found to be void ab initio (from the beginning) payment of the alimony shall resume if the payor party is made a party to the action of annulment and his/her rights are determined. Any order of the court that a party pay alimony to a former spouse may also be terminated upon establishment by the party paying alimony that the former spouse is cohabiting with another person.
Navigating the intricacies and subtleties of alimony can add stress to an already strenuous situation. Furthermore, laws governing alimony settlements are constantly changing. Be sure to consult with a professional divorce attorney for further details.