Alimony (also called spousal support or maintenance) is a payment from one spouse to the other during or after divorce. It acts like a substitute for the financial support the spouses received from each other during marriage--and if one spouse provided more of the support during the marriage, the same will be true after divorce.
Alimony is not gender-based; either spouse may request alimony. A court will award it only to the one who is financially disadvantaged, however. In other words, you can’t get alimony out of your spouse if you also are in a better position to support yourself because you have more income, property, or both.
In Wyoming, you can request alimony as soon as the divorce process begins; you can receive temporary alimony until you get your final order from the court. You can even ask for alimony to help you cover the expense of the divorce, regardless of who asked for the divorce.
Once the court awards alimony, either spouse can challenge the amount or duration of the award at any time during or after the divorce. For example, if you request and get alimony to help you defend the divorce, your spouse can immediately ask the court to reconsider the order for financial reasons. Your spouse can’t, however, ask the court to deny your alimony because you caused the marriage to fail. The court does not include either spouse’s fault when deciding whether to award alimony, how much should be awarded, or for how long.
How the Court Calculates Alimony
There is no equation or calculator that you can use to find out how much alimony you are due or might have to pay. Payments are based on the requesting spouse’s needs and the paying spouse’s ability to pay. Otherwise, the court has wide discretion in awarding alimony, as long as it is reasonable and fair.
The court can order alimony payments as part of the distribution of property and may use a spouse’s separate property, which can include real estate, rents, profits, or other income, to satisfy the necessary amount. For instance, if your spouse requests alimony and you have separate property – say you owned a condominium before marriage that you kept as a rental property during marriage – the court could order you to pay alimony to your spouse by assigning rents or profits from that condo to your spouse.
The court can order periodic alimony payments for life or for as long as necessary. Alimony could also be a lump sum payment made only once.
The court can modify alimony payments any time a spouse has experienced a material and substantial change of circumstances and a spouse has asked the court to make a modification. This is true even if the divorce has been final for years. A spouse has no right to stop or change payments without the court’s permission, however, unless the spouse receiving alimony (the recipient spouse) has died.
Alimony payments terminate automatically when the recipient spouse dies. Where the recipient spouse remarries, the paying spouse can ask the court to terminate payments. There is an exception to this, however. Spouses are free to agree to alimony payments on their own, without the court’s involvement, in a separation agreement. These types of agreements generally settle the spouse’s property rights and can include other arrangements dealing with child custody, child support, and alimony. If a spouse concedes in a separation agreement to pay alimony to the other spouse for 10 years, for example, but the recipient spouse remarries after five years, then the paying spouse could be stuck with making payments for the whole 10 years.
Consequently, if you decide to use a separation agreement to determine the length and amount of alimony payments you must make, be sure to include language about what happens if your spouse remarries.
Wyoming follows the IRS structure for taxing alimony. If you are paying alimony, your payments are tax deductible. If you are receiving alimony, the IRS taxes what you receive as income.
You can read the law on alimony in the Wyoming State Statutes Section 20-2-114 and Section 20-2-116. To learn more about continued alimony payments under a separation agreement even after the recipient spouse remarried, see Swetich v. Smith, 802 P.2d 869 (1990). To read a case dealing with material and substantial changes of circumstances, see Maher v. Maher 90 P.3d 739 (2004). For more on alimony and taxes, see Internal Revenue Service Publication 504, page 12.