Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Kentucky

Learn how judges make decisions on alimony in Kentucky, and whether you can change a maintenance award later.

By , Retired Judge

Alimony (called "maintenance" in Kentucky law) is intended to provide financial assistance for a spouse who may need it during the divorce process and possibly for a time after the final divorce. If you or your spouse is (or will be) requesting alimony as part of the process of filing for divorce (or "dissolution of marriage") in Kentucky, you should understand how it works and how judges make alimony decisions, even if you hope to reach an agreement on the issue.

Types of Alimony in Kentucky

There are basically two types of alimony in Kentucky: temporary maintenance and maintenance awarded after the final divorce. (Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 403.160(1), 403.200 (2023).)

During the divorce proceeding, either spouse may request temporary maintenance by filing a motion (a formal written request) along with an affidavit explaining the reasons behind the request. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 403.160(1) (2023).) This type of alimony is intended to maintain the couple's financial status quo while the divorce is in progress. But that isn't possible in many cases, because it's more expensive to maintain two households than a shared one. Most couples don't have the financial wherewithal to meet that burden. Still, judges do the best they can, and as long as their awards are reasonable, appellate courts won't overrule them.

Be aware that the amount of temporary alimony might not be the same as the maintenance award in the final divorce decree. In fact, getting temporary alimony doesn't guarantee any post-divorce maintenance. The judge will make a separate decision on that issue based on the rules in Kentucky law, discussed below.

How Do Judges Determine Maintenance in Kentucky?

Kentucky law sets out a two-step process for judges to follow when they're making decisions about post-divorce alimony.

Deciding Whether Spouses Are Eligible for Alimony in Kentucky

When spouses request post-divorce maintenance in Kentucky, judges must first decide whether they:

  • lack enough property to meet their reasonable needs, including marital assets they'll receive as part of the property division in the divorce, and
  • are unable to support themselves through appropriate employment or have custody of a child whose condition or circumstances (such as significant special needs) make it appropriate that the custodial parent not be required to work outside the home.

Judges will deny an alimony request from anyone who doesn't meet both of these requirements. (Ky. Rev. Stat.§ 403.200(1) (2023).)

Deciding the Amount and Duration of Alimony

If a spouse meets the initial eligibility requirements for alimony, the judge will then decide how much maintenance to award and how long the payments should last.

Kentucky law doesn't provide a formula for calculating the amount or duration of alimony. Instead, judges have leeway to decide what would be fair. However, the law does require judges to consider all of the relevant circumstances, including:

  • the requesting spouse's age, physical condition, and emotional condition
  • the requesting spouse's ability to meet their needs independently and financial resources (including child support the spouse will receive)
  • the other spouse's ability to meet their own needs while paying alimony
  • how much time it will take the requesting spouse to get enough education or training to find appropriate employment
  • how long the marriage lasted, and
  • the standard of living the couple enjoyed while they were married.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 403.200(2) (2023).)

Even though either spouse's misconduct won't factor into the decision whether to award alimony, at least one Kentucky court has held that a judge may consider a spouse's fault in causing the breakdown of the marriage when determining the amount of alimony. (Chapman v. Chapman, 498 S.W.2d 134 (1973).)

For example, if a marriage ended because one spouse committed adultery, that doesn't necessarily mean that spouse can't get alimony. But the judge may decide that the unfaithful spouse deserves less alimony than would ordinarily be awarded after considering the other relevant factors.

Who Pays Alimony?

Either spouse may request alimony, regardless of gender. And once a spouse has met Kentucky's basic requirements for maintenance, the judge will decide on that request based on the relevant circumstances—which essentially boil down to one spouse need support and the other spouse's ability to pay.

How to Pay and Enforce Alimony in Kentucky

Most alimony is paid periodically (usually once a month). But when it's feasible, a judge might order a one-time, lump-sum payment. For instance, this might be appropriate if the paying spouse doesn't have steady income but owns a lot of assets.

If your spouse isn't meeting the court-ordered payment schedule for maintenance, you can ask the court to enforce the award. Instead of making payments directly to you, the judge might issue an income withholding order requiring your ex's employer to take the alimony amounts out of your ex's paychecks and send the money to you. You might also request that a judge hold your spouse in contempt of court, which could result in fines.

How Long Does Alimony Last in Kentucky?

Temporary alimony ends when the divorce is finalized.

The duration of post-divorce maintenance will depend on the specific circumstances in each case—especially the amount of time the supported spouse will need to become self-supporting. In some cases, a spouse who's coming out of a long-term marriage isn't likely to ever get to that point because of age or health problems. Although it's not common, judges might award so-called permanent alimony to a spouse in this situation.

Nonetheless, all alimony obligations end when either spouse dies or the receiving spouse remarries, unless the divorce decree or the couple's written agreement provides otherwise. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 403.250(2) (2023).)

How to Modify Alimony in Kentucky

Unless the couple had a written agreement that alimony could not be changed, either spouse can ask to modify or end the current maintenance order by filing a motion (written legal request) with the court. But in order to succeed, the spouse must be able to prove that there's been a change of circumstances that's so substantial and continuing that it makes the most recent maintenance order "unconscionable." (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 403.250(1) (2023).)

Basically, that means that the current alimony would no longer be fair or equitable because either spouse's situation has changed, and that change isn't temporary.

If the spouse who's receiving alimony starts living with a new partner in a marriage-type relationship, that might be a valid reason for a modification if the relationship could be considered a new financial resources. But a judge would have to look into the specific circumstances to determine whether that's the case. (Wheeler v. Wheeler, 154 S.W.3d 291 (Ky. Ct. App. 2005).)

In most situations, unless you and your spouse have an agreement about the proposed changes, alimony modification proceedings involve complicated legal issues that are best handled by an experienced family law attorney.

Taxes and Alimony

If your divorce was final before 2019, the paying spouse may continue to deduct alimony payments for purposes of federal income taxes, and the receiving spouse must report those payments as income. However, for all couples who divorced after 2018, the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated any tax deduction or income reporting requirements for alimony. That means the Internal Revenue Service won't count these payments as income for the recipient, and the paying spouse won't get the deduction.

Alimony Agreements, Mediation, and Legal Help

As with all other issues in your divorce, you and your spouse always have the option of reaching a settlement agreement that addresses whether one of you will pay maintenance and, if so, how much the payments will be and how long they will last.

If you're having trouble agreeing, divorce mediation might help you resolve your differences. And if you're hesitant about negotiating a compromise, it may help to know that going to trial increases the cost of divorce exponentially, as well as making the process more stressful and take longer.

But if you haven't been able to reach an agreement even after mediation, you will probably need an experienced family law attorney to protect your interests and help you navigate your divorce. Here are some tips on meeting with potential lawyers and questions you should ask.