Alimony is money one spouse pays to the other for support during divorce proceedings and/or for some time following a final divorce. The concept of alimony developed at a time when traditional marriages were the norm; a wife took care of the household and a husband supported the family financially. Because employment options for women were limited, the husband remained responsible for the wife’s support after the marriage ended.
Although the majority of married women now work outside the home, alimony laws remain in place to ensure economic fairness in divorce. When a couple divorces after building a comfortable lifestyle together, a court may require the higher earner—whether the husband or the wife—to assist the lower earner in maintaining that lifestyle for at least some period of time.
A judge in Connecticut may award temporary alimony during divorce proceedings—sometimes referred to as alimony "pendente lite"—as well as temporary or permanent alimony after the divorce is final. One spouse pays the other a lump sum, or more commonly, a specified amount periodically—monthly or biweekly, for example—for a set length of time.
Permanent alimony was once common but is becoming increasingly rare. Even in longer marriages, courts tend to look at alimony as rehabilitative: an amount paid temporarily, to allow a spouse to find a job or obtain training and education to improve employment prospects. Permanent alimony is generally reserved for spouses who are unlikely to find adequate employment in the future due to age or health issues. A couple can also agree between themselves that one spouse will pay the other long-term or permanent alimony.
To award alimony, a court must find that one spouse has financial need and the other has the ability to pay. A Connecticut court considering a request for either temporary or permanent alimony will consider these factors:
In considering an award of permanent alimony, a court will also take into account the cause of the divorce. This means that certain types of spousal misconduct, such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment, may affect the amount or duration of an alimony award. There is no formula governing the calculation of alimony in Connecticut; a judge has great discretion in deciding how much to award, or whether to award any at all.
Unless the couple agrees in writing not to seek any changes to the alimony award in court, a court can modify periodic payments if one spouse shows a substantial change in circumstances. Alimony payments end when the term of an award expires, when the recipient spouse remarries, or upon the death of either spouse. Although Connecticut law specifically states that a judge may terminate, suspend, or reduce alimony payments if the recipient is living with another adult, a paying spouse requesting such a modification has to demonstrate that the living arrangement has resulted in a change in the recipient’s financial need.
Periodic alimony payments are usually taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible by the payer. Couples can sometimes take advantage of this situation by structuring alimony payments to create the best possible tax scenario for both spouses.
The IRS generally treats lump-sum payments as property distributions, even if the court or the couple refers to the payment as alimony. Under these circumstances there would be no tax effects for either spouse.