Although a divorce ends your marriage, it doesn't necessarily terminate your obligation to financially support your spouse. In some cases, the court may order one spouse to make alimony payments to a lower-earning or unemployed spouse.
Judges in Mississippi may award periodic, lump sum, rehabilitative, or reimbursement alimony. Less commonly, judges can also order a division of marital property or equitable interest in marital property instead of alimony. The court can use one or all types of alimony in combination. (Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-23 (2018).)
Periodic alimony (sometimes also called “permanent”) are payments that a paying spouse makes to the recipient at specific intervals for a period of time. The purpose of periodic support is to ensure that both spouses are financially similarly situated.
Periodic alimony is appropriate in divorces where one spouse is unable to become financially independent, due to disability, age, or absence from the job market for an extended period. Periodic alimony ends when the recipient remarries or cohabitates or if either spouse dies. (Holley v. Holley, 969 So.2d 842 (2007).)
Lump-sum alimony is a final, fixed amount that one spouse pays to the other, usually in one payment or over a period of time. Spouses can’t change the amount of lump-sum alimony later, and it does not end when the recipient remarries or if either spouse dies.
The most common type of alimony is rehabilitative support, which is a payment similar to permanent support, but with a different purpose. The goal of rehabilitative support is for the supported spouse to receive financial help while acquiring necessary job skills or education to find employment and, eventually, becoming financially independent. Typically, the paying spouse will make monthly payments for a fixed amount of time until the court-ordered end date. (Hubbard v. Hubbard, 656 So.2d 124 (130) (1995).)
In marriages where one spouse financially contributed to the other’s career or educational advancement, the court may award reimbursement support. For example, if one spouse helped pay for the other’s law school education, the court may order the recipient of the degree to pay back some of the expenses. The court will determine a proper amount, and neither spouse can change it later.
In some instances, the court may order a 5th type of alimony called “temporary” or “pendente lite” support while the divorce is pending. While the couple is living apart, the court may ask a higher-earning spouse to make periodic payments to ensure that the dependent spouse doesn’t become destitute during the divorce process. Temporary support ends when the judge finalizes the divorce.
Alimony is gender-neutral, meaning either spouse can request it. The hallmark of any alimony case is that one spouse needs financial support and that the other can pay.
To determine if alimony is appropriate, the court will evaluate the following factors:
Unless the couple agreed otherwise, either can ask the court to modify an alimony award later. However, in Mississippi, judges can only change periodic and rehabilitative support. If you’re requesting a modification of your support award, you must demonstrate that, since the last order, there is a material change of circumstances that requires a review. (Bowe v. Bowe, 557 So.2d 793 (1990).)
Couples can agree on a payment method for alimony that works for both spouses. However, if you can’t agree, the court will usually include an income withholding order with the support documents. An income withholding order requires the paying spouse’s employer to withhold an amount equal to the alimony award from the paycheck and send it to the supported spouse. Income withholding orders are appropriate for periodic and rehabilitative support orders.
Lump-sum and reimbursement payments are typically a one-time payment from the paying spouse.
If you’re not receiving court-ordered payments, you can ask the judge for help enforcing your alimony order. Judges have discretion in terms of how to punish a spouse for failure to pay alimony. For example, the court may order a lien on property or bank accounts, charge attorney's fees and court costs, or restrict your driver’s license. For the most serious offenders, the court may find the payer in contempt of court, which could result in a jail sentence.
Until recently, spouses who paid alimony could deduct the payments for tax purposes, and recipients paid tax on the income. However, for alimony agreements and awards entered on or after January 1, 2019, alimony payments are no longer deductible and are not counted as income for the recipient.
Couples negotiating an alimony award should consider the impact of the tax changes before agreeing to a support award. If you’re unsure how the new tax law impacts your divorce, consider hiring an experienced family law attorney in your area.