In Alaska, alimony is called “spousal support.” The purpose of spousal support is to distribute the economic effects of divorce fairly between spouses. A court may order a higher earning spouse—whether husband or wife—to assist the lower earning spouse financially by making support payments during the divorce process and/or afterwards.
Who's Eligible for Support?
A court may award alimony only if it finds that one spouse has financial need and that the other has the ability to pay. A court will determine both issues by looking at all of the relevant circumstances in a particular case. While the goal is to enable both spouses to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed during the marriage, the reality often is that both spouses experience a drop in economic status, due to the need to maintain two households on the same amount of income that formerly supported one.
One of the factors an Alaska court will weigh heavily is the length of a marriage. In a short marriage, the mutual investment in the couple’s lifestyle is generally substantially less, calling for either brief support or none at all. In a very long marriage, fairness often requires a longer period of support, particularly if one spouse’s responsibilities at home have diminished that his or her career opportunities.
In addition to the length of the marriage and the couple’s lifestyle, an Alaska court will consider all other relevant factors, including:
- each spouse’s age and health
- each spouse’s earning capacity, including education and work history, absence from the job market, and custodial responsibilities for children during the marriage
- each spouse’s financial condition, including availability and cost of health insurance
- how the couple’s property and debts were divided in the divorce, and
- whether either spouse’s conduct caused an unreasonable loss of marital assets.
Types of Spousal Support Available in Alaska
Alaska law allows a judge to award temporary support during divorce proceedings—sometimes referred to as "pendente lite" support—as well as either temporary or permanent support after the divorce is final. An order may direct one spouse to pay the other in one lump sum or periodically for a specific length of time.
There is no formula governing the calculation of spousal support in Alaska; a court has great discretion in deciding what amount to award, and even whether to award any amount at all. Judges in Alaska very rarely award permanent support or long-term support. Even if a dependent spouse is elderly or has a disability, the court will first attempt to address the spouse’s needs through an award of marital property in the equitable distribution. A couple can always agree between themselves to provide one spouse with longer term or permanent support.
Alaska courts awarding temporary spousal support will specify whether the award is for "rehabilitation" or "reorientation." A judge who finds that one spouse needs additional education or job training to improve his or her employment prospects may order support for rehabilitation. A spouse seeking this kind of support generally must have a specific employment goal and must describe to the court how the support will facilitate reaching that goal. Rehabilitative support usually lasts only as long as it will take the spouse to complete a program and begin a new job.
A judge who finds that one spouse will have to transition to living on less money than was available during the marriage may order “reorientation” support to help with the adjustment. This is usually very short-term support and often has a specific purpose, such as providing living expenses while the couple’s marital assets are distributed and sold.
Modifiability and Termination
Unless the couple has agreed, in writing, that neither will seek modification of the spousal support award in court, a court can modify periodic payments if one spouse can show a material and substantial change in circumstances related to the purpose of the award. For example, if rehabilitative alimony included an amount covering tuition, and the recipient spouse decides not to go to school or receives an academic scholarship covering tuition, the paying spouse can ask the court to reduce support. Spousal support also generally ends if the receiving spouse remarries.
Periodic alimony payments are generally treated as taxable income to the recipient and tax-deductible by the payer. A lump-sum payment may be treated as a property distribution by the IRS, even if the payment is designated as alimony by the court or the couple. In this situation, there would be no tax effects for either the payer or the recipient.