Spousal maintenance—also called alimony or spousal support—is a payment from one spouse to the other either during and/or after a divorce. Alimony is available in Idaho divorces if one spouse is unable to become financially stable without the other spouse's help.
The goal of a support award is to ensure that both spouses can continue living the marital lifestyle (or close to it) after the divorce. Although the divorce ends your marriage, it doesn't automatically terminate the obligation to support your spouse. If one spouse earns significantly more than the other, the court may order maintenance payments to create a financial balance.
The concept of spousal support or alimony has been around for decades and came about in a time where it was common for a wife to work in the home, raising children and handling household chores, while the husband worked outside of the home and provided financial support to the family. Although it's now common for both spouses to work outside the home, alimony remains available for spouses who are unable to become self-supporting during or after the divorce without help.
The courts in Idaho can order temporary support (during the divorce process and after), fixed-duration (rehabilitative), or permanent support. Before the court can determine what type of support is appropriate, a judge must find that the requesting spouse needs support and that the other can pay.
The divorce process isn't quick, and some spouses need help meeting financial obligations while the divorce is pending, like paying a second rent or mortgage expense, or paying bills that the other spouse paid during the marriage.
Temporary support—sometimes called "pendente lite"—is available for spouses who can't support themselves during the divorce. Pendente lite support ends when the judge finalizes the divorce or creates a new support order.
Temporary support may also be available after the divorce, but it's for a limited time only. The goal of temporary maintenance is for the higher-earning spouse to provide financial assistance to the lower-earning spouse to adjust to a new standard of living after the divorce. The judge will set an end date for temporary support.
The most common type of support in Idaho is a fixed-duration or rehabilitative award. In many cases, the lower-earning spouse can become self-supporting, but needs time and financial help to find proper employment. The court will order rehabilitative support while the supported spouse attends school or training that will lead to secure employment and financial independence.
Judges may ask the supported spouse to submit a rehabilitation plan before deciding the duration of support. Like temporary support, the judge will usually set an end date for maintenance (a deadline for completing training or education) or date on which the spouses will go back to court for a review.
Permanent support is rare, but is still available to spouses who are unable to work due to advanced age or physical or mental disability. Permanent support generally ends when the supported spouse remarries, dies, or otherwise qualifies for a modification.
Spousal maintenance is gender-neutral, meaning gender plays no role in the decision to award alimony. However, the court will only award support if the requesting spouse lacks sufficient property to meet financial needs and is unable to become financially independent through employment. (Idaho Code § 32-705 (a) (b)) If the court finds a need and that the other spouse can pay, the court will evaluate the following factors to determine the type, duration, and amount of support:
Although Idaho offers no-fault divorce, the law explicitly states that judges can consider marital fault when deciding maintenance awards. The court is more likely to place an emphasis on adultery or other misconduct if the behavior affected the marital estate. For example, if a wife cheated on a spouse during the marriage and spent marital money to take vacations or otherwise used the funds on a girlfriend or boyfriend, the court may require reimbursement to the wronged spouse.
There's no set calculation that court's use when deciding the amount of maintenance in Idaho. Judges have broad discretion when creating a maintenance award. Couples who wish to remain in control of the support award can negotiate the terms and ask the judge to approve the agreement.
Typically, the court will order a periodic (bi-weekly, monthly, or semi-annual) payment of maintenance. Idaho courts will attach an income withholding order to the support order, which directs the paying spouse's employer to withhold the funds from a paycheck.
Unless the spouses agree otherwise, Idaho law requires all payments to go through the Department of Health and Welfare. After receiving the payment, the Department of Health and Welfare will notify the supported spouse and will send payment. (Idaho Code § 32-710A)
In some cases, the court will require the paying spouse to make a lump-sum alimony payment. Lump-sum payments are rare, but in situations where the paying spouse doesn't have consistent income (self-employed or no job) but has many assets, the judge may order immediate payment of full support.
Maintenance orders are court orders, and failure to pay can result in the court finding you in contempt of court. It's essential to pay as directed. Otherwise, you risk fines, bank or tax levies, or jail.
Idaho law allows either spouse to request a modification of spousal support if the requesting spouse can show a substantial and material change of circumstances since the last order. If the spouses agreed in writing that the award would be non-modifiable, the court would reject the request for review. (Idaho Code § 32-709 (1).)
If the judge finalized your divorce on or after January 1, 2019, maintenance payments are not tax-deductible to the payer or counted as income against the recipient. However, for marriages terminated on or before December 31, 2018, the payer of support can "write-off" the payments as a deduction, while the recipient must report the payments as income.
If you're unsure how the tax changes in 2018 affect your alimony case, speak with an attorney experienced in tax and divorce law.