Couples often have many questions when going through the divorce process. If you have minor children, you’ll need to decide which parent will be the primary caretaker for the children, and who will pay child support. Additionally, you will need to divide marital property and debt and discuss whether one spouse will pay the other alimony during and after the divorce.
Alimony (also called maintenance in Kentucky) is money that one spouse pays to the other either during the divorce, for some time after, or both. The concept of alimony began decades ago when, in traditional marriages, one spouse worked full-time while the other stayed home to care for the family. For the stay-at-home spouse, a divorce meant learning to adjust to living on a single income, rather than relying on a partner. Without job training or employment history, lower-earning spouses often found it difficult to become financially independent. The legislature and the courts created alimony as a way for the needy spouse to receive support, either temporarily or permanently, while working towards becoming self-supporting.
While today it’s common for both spouses to work outside the home, alimony remains available to spouses who need support.
Judges in Kentucky can award three types of maintenance: temporary (pendente lite), short-term, or permanent. Depending on your case, the divorce process can take up to a year or more to complete, during which both spouses must adjust to living on a single income.
If you’ve relied on your spouse to pay for ordinary living expenses, you may need financial assistance to make ends meet while you wait for the judge to finalize the divorce. Temporary support orders are only valid during the divorce process and end when the judge finalizes the divorce or creates a new support order. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 403.160 (2018).)
Short-term support is the most common type of alimony in Kentucky. The courts sometimes refer to short-term maintenance as “rehabilitative” because the purpose is for the supported spouse to obtain an educational degree or specialized job training necessary to find employment.
Rehabilitative alimony is only available for the period that it takes the supported spouse to find proper employment, and the judge will usually require that spouse to create a plan that explains how long it will take to become financially independent.
Permanent alimony is less common and usually only available to spouses who are ending a long-term marriage. Although judges expect both spouses to work after a divorce and become self-supporting, there are some exceptions for spouses who can't work due to advanced age or disability and need ongoing financial support. Permanent alimony doesn’t necessarily last forever, and the court usually reserves the right to modify or terminate it later. Generally, alimony ends when either spouse dies, or the supported spouse remarries. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 403.250 (2018).)
As with any divorce-related issue, spouses can negotiate the terms of any alimony award, including the type, amount, and duration. If the award is fair to both spouses, the judge will approve it.
Alimony is gender-neutral, meaning courts can't consider gender when making an award. However, before the court evaluates the appropriate type and duration of alimony, the judge must find that the requesting spouse:
Once the court determines that you meet the above requirements, the judge will then evaluate the following factors to determine the type, amount, and duration of maintenance:
Kentucky is a no-fault divorce state, but sometimes the court will consider fault when deciding the amount of an alimony award. For example, if you committed adultery and are the spouse seeking support, you may not receive the amount of support you need.
On the other hand, if the paying spouse cheated and used marital funds to pay for a boyfriend or girlfriend during the marriage, the judge may adjust the maintenance award to recoup the lost assets.
Most alimony orders require the paying spouse to make periodic payments to the supported spouse. Unless the spouses agree otherwise, the judge will include an income withholding order with the support order. The court will send the income withholding order to the paying spouse’s employer, directing it to deduct alimony payments from the employee’s paycheck. The payments will go directly to the State Disbursement Unit, which will then forward the money to the recipient spouse.
If a paying spouse doesn’t receive a regular paycheck or is unemployed, the court may require a lump-sum (one-time) payment of support to come from that spouse's assets.
Over time the circumstances that originally supported alimony may change. Either spouse can ask the court to review the award (unless you’ve previously agreed not to change it) and modify it to meet your current needs. The court will only review a support award if the requesting spouse can demonstrate that there’s been a material change in circumstances since the original order.
If you can’t meet your support responsibilities, it’s important that you file a motion to modify before you stop paying. Failure to pay support may result in the court charging you with contempt, which carries with it potential penalties like fines, loss of licenses, and jail. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 403.240 (2018).)
Historically, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allowed paying spouses to deduct alimony payments at the end of the year and required the recipient spouse to pay taxes on the income.
However, recent changes eliminated the tax-deduction and reporting requirements for spouses divorced on or after January 1, 2019. The changes may impact the final award for your case, so speaking with an experienced attorney is a must before you finalize your agreement.