New Hampshire law defines alimony as one or more payments made to, or for the benefit of, a spouse or former spouse. In plain English, alimony is a monetary payment that one spouse gives the other during a divorce and/or for a period after. This can be arranged by an agreement between the spouses and/or a court order.
Historically, judges typically awarded alimony (sometimes also called maintenance or spousal support) to stay-at-home wives in long-term marriages. Times have changed, and today either spouse can ask for support, regardless of gender. However, the court will only award it if you meet the state’s guidelines.
Judges in New Hampshire can order temporary, periodic (short-term), reimbursement, or permanent alimony in divorce cases. Temporary alimony is available to spouses who need financial assistance during the divorce process in order to cover living expenses and is separate from temporary child support payments. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458:16 (2018).)
Most post-divorce alimony awards are rehabilitative in nature—which is short-term. The law presumes that both spouses are capable of becoming financially independent, but also understands that for some spouses, returning to school or finding professional training is necessary to secure an independent source of income after the end of a marriage.
Reimbursement alimony is appropriate in cases where one spouse financially supported the other’s education or career during the marriage. The law in New Hampshire permits judges to award one or more payments to compensate a spouse for the contributions during the marriage. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458:19 (XI) (2018).)
Permanent alimony awards are less common, and courts typically reserve them for long-term marriages where one spouse is unable to become self-supporting due to a lengthy absence from the job market, advanced age, or disability. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458:19 (1) (2018).)
The first step to qualifying for alimony is to request it in your divorce. Once you do, the court must evaluate whether you need financial support. New Hampshire law allows alimony if:
Once the court determines that you need support, it will then decide the duration and amount of alimony depending on the length of the marriage and several other factor including:
The court may factor in things like adultery, abandonment, impotence, extreme cruelty, felony conviction, abuse, or habitual drunkenness—the fault grounds for divorce in New Hampshire. So, if your spouse committed marital misconduct, causing you to lose a job or if your spouse wasted marital assets on an affair, the court may award you alimony. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458:7 (2018).)
The court may award alimony for a definite or indefinite period. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458:19 (I) (2018).) Most orders are short-term and last long enough for the supported spouse to become financially independent. Temporary alimony ends when the judge finalizes the divorce, and rehabilitative support lasts until the date the court requires, or the court may order support to end when a specific event occurs. For example, if you’re receiving short-term rehabilitative support, the judge may set an end date for the day you complete your educational degree.
Spouses can also agree to the duration of alimony. If you can’t agree, the judge will decide for you. Unless the court orders otherwise, support ends when the paying spouse reaches full retirement age (or retires, whichever is later), when either spouse dies, or if the supported spouse remarries or cohabitates.
If the court terminates alimony due to remarriage or cohabitation, and the marriage or cohabitation ends within 5 years of the termination, the court may reinstate the original order for alimony. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458:19-aa (2018).)
Most alimony awards are periodic, and the paying spouse typically pays monthly. The court will usually include an income withholding order with the support order, which directs the paying spouse’s employer to withhold the alimony payments and forward them to the recipient. The court may also choose to order lump-sum payments, which may be one payment or installments over time. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458-B:2 (2018).)
Failure to pay alimony may result in contempt charges from the court, which carry with it penalties, like fines, attorney fees, and even jail time for contempt of court. If you aren’t receiving your alimony payments, you can ask the judge for help enforcing the order by filing a request with the court. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458:34 (2018).)
Unless the court orders or the spouses agree otherwise, either spouse can request a modification of alimony later. The court requires the requesting spouse to demonstrate that, since the last order, there’s been a substantial and unforeseeable change in circumstances, there’s no undue hardship on either spouse, and justice requires a change in amount or duration of alimony. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458:19-aa (2018).) For example, if you are paying support and involuntarily lose your job, the court may modify the order to reflect your new income.
For divorces finalized on or after January 1, 2019, alimony payments are not tax-deductible to the paying spouse or reportable income to the recipient. In the past, the paying spouse could “write-off” alimony payments as a deduction while the recipient reported the payments as income and paid taxes. It’s important to consult with an experienced attorney to learn how alimony impacts your taxes.