If you’re going through a divorce, you’re probably overwhelmed with emotions. It’s no secret that ending a marriage is hard, and the discussions you’ll need to have with your soon-to-be-ex won’t make it any easier.
Divorcing couples typically need to talk about child custody, property division, and child support. Depending on your situation, you may also need to discuss whether one spouse will financially support the other with alimony during the divorce process and, sometimes, after the judge finalizes your divorce.
Alimony (also sometimes referred to as “spousal support”) is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to the other to help maintain the marital standard of living or keep the lower-earning spouse financially stable for a period of time during and after the divorce.
The concept of alimony isn’t new and was most common in “traditional” marriages where one spouse worked while the other stayed home to raise a family. Although it’s common for both spouses to work outside of the home today, alimony remains an option for the court to ensure economic fairness in a divorce.
In Georgia, judges can order temporary or permanent alimony. (Ga. Code Ann. § 19-6-4 (2018).) Temporary alimony is appropriate in cases where one spouse needs financial support while the divorce is pending in court. The legal process for divorce can take anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on local rules and the facts of each case. During this time, spouses must adjust from a two-income household to one income.
If you’re used to your spouse working full-time to support your family, it’s common to feel overwhelmed when it’s time to move into separate homes and pay debts that your spouse paid in the past. To ensure financial fairness for both spouses, the court may order one spouse to support the other until the judge finalizes the divorce. An award of temporary support doesn’t guarantee alimony after the divorce. The judge decides whether permanent alimony is appropriate and, if so, will create a new order that will continue in effect after the divorce.
Permanent alimony sounds daunting, but even when the court orders it, it’s rarely for an unlimited period. The most common alimony awards after the divorce are for spouses who need temporary support to acquire job training or education that will allow the spouse to find employment and become self-supporting. Georgia courts reserve truly permanent (long-term) alimony for spouses who are unable to find a job and support themselves due to advanced age or disability.
During negotiations, couples can create a short-term or permanent alimony plan that works for each spouse.
Either spouse can request alimony. However, before the court awards alimony, the judge must find that one spouse needs the support, and the other can pay. If there is a need and ability to pay, the court will consider the following factors when creating a final support award:
Georgia courts also consider whether one spouse’s marital misconduct caused the breakdown of the marriage. A judge may reduce or even deny alimony for a spouse who otherwise qualifies but deserted the other spouse or committed adultery during the marriage. (Ga. Code Ann. § 19-6-1 (b) (2018).) The court may award permanent alimony to the victim of marital misconduct. (Ga. Conn Ann. § 19-6-4 (2018).)
Unlike child support calculations, there is no specific formula to calculate alimony in Georgia. If there is no adultery or desertion, and there is a need and ability to pay, the judge will weigh each factor equally to determine (1) if alimony is appropriate and (2) the type, duration, and amount of the final award.
Most alimony payments are periodic, meaning paid monthly or weekly, and on-going until the court orders payments to stop. However, if the paying spouse has the means, the court may order a one-time, lump-sum payment of support to the other spouse.
Lump-sum payments are rare because most spouses (especially after a divorce) don’t have the funds to hand over a large sum of money to an ex-spouse. However, if the circumstances allow for it, a lump-sum payment can alleviate on-going monthly or yearly payments.
For cases where periodic payments are appropriate, the court will likely issue an income deduction order, which directs the paying spouse’s employer to deduct alimony from wages and direct the payments to the family support registry. (Ga. Code Ann. § 19-6-32 (d) (2018).)
Alimony awards are court-ordered payments, so it’s important to pay exactly as the order directs. If you fail to pay, the court can punish you by charging you with contempt and issuing fines, penalties, liens on property, or jail. (Ga. Code Ann. § 19-6-28 (2018).)
Unless the spouses agreed, in writing, that neither would ask for a modification of alimony in the future, either can request a review of support by the court. The requesting spouse must demonstrate a change in circumstances of either spouse before the court will review for a possible modification. For example, if the supported spouse is cohabitating in a marriage-like relationship with another person or the paying spouse loses a job. (Ga. Code Ann. § 19-6-19 (2018).)
Permanent alimony ends automatically if the supported spouse remarries. (Ga. Code Ann. § 19-6-5 (b) (2018).) Temporary support ends when the judge finalizes the divorce.
Historically, alimony payments were taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible for the payer. However, beginning on January 1, 2019, new changes to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the income reporting requirements and tax-deduction benefit of alimony. Couples can plan for the tax changes by altering agreed alimony awards to account for the loss of the tax deduction. It’s important to speak with an experienced divorce attorney before negotiating your alimony award.