Alimony is a court-ordered payment that one spouse pays the other during the divorce or for a time after. Alimony is a concept that courts reserved initially for long-term marriages where one spouse (usually the husband) worked full-time, and the other (usually the wife) gave up a career to stay at home and care for the family.
Although times have changed, and both spouses tend to work outside the home, Nebraska courts may still award alimony in divorce cases where one spouse is unable to become financially independent after the divorce. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-365 (2018).)
It's not unusual for judges to award temporary alimony during the divorce process, especially if one spouse is financially dependent on the other. Temporary support during the divorce helps a lower-earning spouse make ends meet while also adjusting to a new, one-income household. (Neb. Rev. Stat. §42-367 (2018).)
If you're seeking support, but only because you need time to acquire an education or job skills necessary to find employment, the court may award you short-term—or rehabilitative—alimony. The purpose of short-term alimony is to provide the supported spouse with financial help while taking the steps necessary to become self-supporting. For example, a court may award short-term support while the supported spouse is in school, working an entry-level job, or waiting for marital property to sell.
Permanent support is rare, and the court reserves it for long-term marriages where one spouse can't become self-supporting. (Reichert v. Reichert, 246 Neb. 31, 516 N.W.2d 600 (1994).) For example, if one spouse left a career for 18 years while raising a family and supporting the other's career, the court may order alimony to ensure the recipient doesn't need to rely on state welfare to get by after the divorce. In some cases, a spouse can't become financially independent due to advanced age or disability, and permanent support is appropriate.
If the court awards temporary alimony, it ends when the judge finalizes the divorce and doesn't always turn into a post-divorce award.
When the court orders short-term support, the court may make an order for alimony that ends when a specific event occurs. For example, rehabilitative support payments may end when you find employment to support yourself, complete a degree program, or sell the marital home.
Permanent alimony is not always indefinite, and the court may order that it terminates on a future date, or after a particular event. For example, permanent support typically ends when the supported spouse remarries or begins to cohabitate in a marriage-like relationship, or when either spouse dies.
Either spouse, regardless of gender, can request alimony during the divorce. However, for the court to award support, the requesting spouse must demonstrate a need for financial support and that the other spouse can afford to pay.
Once the court decides alimony is appropriate, it will evaluate the following factors to determine the amount and duration of the award:
Unlike child support in Nebraska, there's no formula for judges to use to calculate alimony. Judges have broad discretion and will focus on ensuring that the dependent spouse has a reasonable time to bridge the period between the divorce and becoming self-supporting. The hallmark of every alimony case is fairness, and the judge will evaluate the reasonableness and the circumstances of each case before creating a final award. (Keim v. Keim, 228 Neb. 684, 424 N.W.2d 112 (1988).)
The court can require alimony payments to be one lump-sum, periodic payments, or a property transfer. Lump-sum payments are rare because most spouses, especially after a divorce, don't have enough financial resources to satisfy an alimony award in one payment. However, if the court requires it, a lump-sum payment ends the paying spouse's obligation forever.
Periodic payments are most common and usually occur monthly. Couples can agree to a payment method, like direct deposit from the paying spouse to the recipient's bank account. However, if either spouse wants court oversight, either can ask for an income withholding order, which directs the paying spouse's employer to deduct payments directly from the employee's wages.
If you're not receiving your support payments, you can ask the court for help enforcing the order. The court may initiate contempt proceedings against your spouse, which may result in penalties like tax intercepts, attorney fees, bank account seizures, loss of driver's license, or in the most severe cases, jail time. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 42-370 (2018).)
Couples can agree, in advance, not to modify alimony later. However, if there's no written agreement or the court doesn't prohibit a review, either spouse can ask the court to change the amount, duration, or circumstances of alimony in the future.
The court requires the requesting spouse to demonstrate "good cause" for a modification, which usually means a significant change in a spouse's financial or other circumstances. For example, you can ask for a review if you are paying support, and you've involuntarily lost your job or if the supported spouse gets a promotion. The court won't change the alimony award if the circumstances came about intentionally, like quitting or losing a job due to misconduct. (Neb. Rev. Stat. 42-365 (2018).) (Lambert v. Lambert, 9 Neb. App. 661, 617 N.W.2d 645 (2000).)
Historically, and to ease the burden of paying alimony, the law allowed a paying spouse to deduct alimony payments and required the recipient to report and pay taxes on the income. However, in 2018, changes to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the tax deduction and reporting requirements—meaning, the paying spouse pays taxes on the payments, not the recipient.
Before agreeing to alimony or asking the judge to decide for you, it's critical to speak to an experienced attorney to learn how the tax changes impact alimony awards and finances.