Although a divorce ends your marriage, it doesn’t always mean that you can stop financially supporting your spouse. Historically, it was common for one spouse to stay home and raise the couple’s children while the other worked full-time. In cases where one spouse earns more than the other, alimony may be necessary to ensure that both spouses can maintain their lifestyles during and after the divorce.
Alimony is financial support that one spouse pays the other during the divorce process and after. It’s more common for both spouses to work outside the home, so not all divorces will need an alimony evaluation. But, if the spouses aren’t similarly situation financially, it might be appropriate for your case.
Judges in Connecticut can order three types of alimony: temporary (pendente lite), rehabilitative (short-term), and permanent.
An average divorce can take anywhere from 6 months to more than a year to complete. While a divorce is pending, most spouses need some time to adjust from a two-income household to one. While the primary earner usually doesn’t have trouble with the adjustment, the lower-earning spouse commonly has difficulty making ends meet, so temporary alimony is often necessary to help make ends meet until the court finalizes the divorce and (if appropriate) creates a new support order. (Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 46b-83).
Rehabilitative support is appropriate in cases where the lesser-earning spouse can become self-supporting, but needs time and financial help to do so. In most cases, the recipient spouse will receive rehabilitative support while attending school or obtaining the necessary job skills to excel or enter the job market. Rehabilitative support will end on the date the court determines to be appropriate.
Permanent alimony used to be more common, but is now becoming increasingly rare. In the past (and in some marriages today), one spouse can’t become self-supporting after the divorce, due to advanced age, disability, or some other reason that decreases earning capacity. In cases where one spouse can’t become financially independent, the court may require the other spouse to provide financial support permanently.
Either spouse can request alimony in Connecticut and will need to do so, formally, in the court paperwork. Before a court can award alimony, the requesting spouse must prove a financial need for assistance and that the other spouse can afford to pay.
A Connecticut court considering a request for alimony will also evaluate the following factors:
When the court evaluates an award of permanent alimony, the judge may also consider the reasons for the divorce, such as adultery, willful desertion, or intolerable cruelty. While marital fault may not impact your divorce, it may affect the amount or duration of the alimony award.
There is no specific formula for alimony, and the judge has broad discretion on whether to award support and, if so, how much and for how long. As with other divorce-related issues, like child custody and property division, couples can negotiate and create a settlement agreement that meets their needs for alimony.
The type and frequency of alimony payments depend on your case and what the judge determines to be appropriate. In most cases, it’s common for the paying spouse to pay alimony on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. Courts in Connecticut, like most states, submit an income withholding order with any orders for support (including child support.) Income withholding orders contain details on the amount and frequency of support and instruct the paying spouse’s employer to automatically reduce the payor’s paycheck and distribute the funds to the recipient.
Divorce can be expensive, and most spouses can’t afford to pay the total alimony award in one payment. However, in rare cases where one spouse has enough cash to pay, the court may allow a lump-sum payment of support, which eliminates periodic payments over time. Though receiving a one-time payment may be appealing to a spouse in need, you should also understand that you may be giving up the right to modify support later.
It’s important to understand that failure to comply with the court’s income withholding or support orders can result in severe penalties, including fines, payment of attorney fees, or jail.
Either spouse can request a modification or termination of an alimony award if there is a significant change in circumstances since the last order. Courts in Connecticut may modify, suspend, or terminate alimony if the recipient spouse is living with (or remarries) another person, and the living arrangement alters the financial needs of the recipient. (Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 46b-86).
However, if the spouses agreed in writing (or the court ordered) that alimony was non-modifiable, then neither spouse could ask for any changes to the alimony award in the future.
Over the course of the past 70-80 years, alimony has always been a tax deduction for the paying spouse and reported as income to the recipient. However, on December 22, 2017, the President of the United States signed significant changes into the tax law impacting alimony.
The new tax law became effective on January 1, 2019, and for divorces finalized after December 31, 2018, alimony payments are no longer tax-deductible or reportable income to the recipient.
For example, a paying spouse earning $50,000 and paying $10,000 would historically “write-off” the payments of alimony, thus potentially placing the spouse into a lower tax bracket. Presently, the paying spouse’s income will remain at $50,000 for tax purposes despite paying $10,000 in alimony. Meanwhile, the recipient spouse will receive an extra $10,000 in unreported income.
Before negotiating an alimony settlement, both spouses should meet with an experienced tax attorney to discuss the tax repercussions of the new law.