Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Ohio

Learn how spousal support works in Ohio, including who can get alimony, how judges decide on the amount and duration of payments, and whether you can change or end spousal support after your divorce is final.

By , Retired Judge

If either you or your spouse is requesting alimony (called "spousal support" in Ohio) as part of your divorce—or wants to change an existing support order—you probably have a lot of questions about how it works. Who's entitled to receive support payments from an ex? Is there such a thing as an alimony calculator in Ohio? How long can alimony last? Read on to find the answers to these and other questions about spousal support in Ohio.

Who Qualifies for Spousal Support in Ohio?

Either spouse may have to pay alimony. Spousal support is based on the spouses' relative income and resources, not gender.

At the same time, when Ohio judges are making decisions about alimony, they must assume that each spouse contributed equally to the couple's finances, such as by caring for their children and household so that the other spouse could earn income outside the home. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.18(C)(2) (2023).)

You don't have to be married for any specific amount of time to be eligible for spousal support in Ohio. The judge will take the length of your marriage into account, but that will only be one of many factors that go into the decision-making process (as discussed below).

How Judges Decide on Spousal Support

When judges in Ohio are deciding whether to award spousal support—and if, so, how much the payments will be and how long they'll last—they must consider all of the relevant circumstances, including:

  • the spouses' actual income, including retirement benefits and income from property they received in the divorce, as well as their other assets and debts
  • each spouse's educational level and ability to earn income, and whether one of them has less earning ability as a result of being a homemaker or carrying out other marital responsibilities
  • each spouse's contribution to the other's education, training, or earning ability
  • the spouses' ages
  • each spouse's mental and emotional condition
  • how long the marriage lasted
  • the standard of living that the couple enjoyed during the marriage
  • how long it would take (and how much it would cost) for the supported spouse to get the education, training, or work experience needed to find an appropriate job
  • whether it would be inappropriate to require the spouse with custody of the couple's child to seek employment outside the home, and
  • the tax consequences for both spouses of any alimony award (more on that below).

(Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.18(C)(1) (2023).)

Does Ohio Have an Alimony Calculator?

Unlike child support, which is calculated using a strict formula, Ohio doesn't have a formula for calculating spousal support or even determining who's entitled to receive it. Instead, the state's judges have considerable leeway to decide what's reasonable, appropriate, and fair based on each couple's particular circumstances.

You might find websites with so-called alimony calculators for Ohio, but they aren't based on the state's laws or how judges actually make their decisions.

Can You Get Alimony During Your Ohio Divorce?

A judge may award temporary alimony after one of the spouses has filed for divorce or legal separation in Ohio, but before they've gotten the final decree. However, the law doesn't spell out any guidelines for temporary alimony or factors the judges must consider—other than saying that the support should be "reasonable." (Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.18(B) (2023).)

As a general rule, the goal of temporary alimony is to maintain the spouses' financial status quo until their divorce is final. Of course, that's not possible for many couples who have separated before or during their divorce. After all, it's more expensive to maintain two separate households than a shared one. But judges will try to do what's fair, given the couple's financial constraints.

Sometimes, that means a judge may decide not to issue a formal order for temporary alimony when one of the spouses is voluntarily providing a reasonable amount of support for the other, paying at least some of the bills (such as for the mortgage, rent, or credit cards), or both. Also, instead of awarding temporary alimony, the judge order one or both spouses to pay certain bills while the divorce is in progress.

How Long Does Spousal Support Last in Ohio?

Temporary spousal support ends when the divorce (or legal separation) is final.

As to post-divorce spousal support, the duration of the payments will mostly depend on on what the judge decides is appropriate and fair after considering all of the relevant circumstances (listed above).

Is Alimony Ever Permanent in Ohio?

Sometimes, post-divorce spousal support is called "permanent" alimony, to distinguish it from temporary support. But the term "permanent" is misleading, because that makes it sound like the payments will last forever—which isn't the case.

In fact, there are three basic ways that post-divorce spousal support may end in Ohio:

  • The spousal support order may state that payments will stop on a particular date or when a certain event occurs (such as when the paying spouse retires).
  • At some point after the divorce, the judge may grant the paying spouse's request to end the alimony payments because the circumstances have changed (more below on modifications of spousal support orders).
  • If either spouse dies, alimony will automatically end under Ohio law unless the original spousal support order specifically states otherwise. For example, the order (or the spouses' agreement) may require the spouse who's paying alimony to buy and maintain a life insurance policy that names the recipient spouse as the beneficiary, with the benefits as a form of support after the paying spouse's death.

(Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.18(B), (E) (2023).)

What Is "Indefinite" Spousal Support in Ohio?

Ohio courts have held that in most cases, when the spouse who's receiving alimony has the resources and potential to become self-supporting, the award should specify a reasonable date when the payments will end. But judges may award spousal support for an indefinite period of time under certain circumstances, such as when:

  • the marriage lasted a long time
  • the spouses are of an "advanced age," or
  • it's difficult to know how long it will take the supported spouse to become self-sufficient, particularly when a homemaker spouse has had little opportunity to develop the skills needed for meaningful employment.

(Kunkle v. Kunkle, 554 N.E.2d 83 (Ohio 1990), Gore v. Gore, 499 N.E.2d 1281 (Ohio Ct. App. 1985).)

Can Couples Agree on Alimony?

Spouses always have the option of agreeing about alimony. In fact, courts strongly encourage couples to try to reach a meeting of the minds on all the issues in their divorce.

If you and your spouse can do that before you file for divorce, by signing a comprehensive settlement agreement (known as a "separation agreement" in Ohio), you'll be able to take advantage of Ohio's simplified procedure for "dissolution of marriage." Going this route fast-tracks your case, and it usually means a considerable savings on the cost of divorce.

If you're having trouble agreeing with your spouse, divorce mediation might help you resolve your differences.

Paying and Collecting Spousal Support

In most cases, alimony is paid in monthly installments. Ohio law also allows judges to order that spousal support be paid in a lump sum of money or with real property (real estate) or personal property (or both). (Ohio Rev. Code §3105.18(B) (2023).)

It's common for judges to issue an income withholding order, especially if a spouse is paying child support as well as alimony. That way, the employer will deduct the support amount from the spouse's paycheck and send the money to a state disbursement unit, which will then forward it to the recipient spouse.

When the spouses have no minor children, the judge may allow the paying spouse to send the alimony payments directly to the recipient. If you're supposed to be receiving those direct payments but haven't been getting them, you may ask the court to order your spouse to pay spousal support (both the back payments and the future ones) to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That way, the local child support agency can use some of the same enforcement techniques that it uses to enforce child support in Ohio. (Ohio Rev. Code §3121.441 (2023).)

Another option for enforcing alimony is to file a motion (written legal request) with the court, requesting that a judge hold your ex in contempt for failing to obey the spousal support order, which can result in fines or even a jail sentence. It can take a long time to go through the legal contempt process, and you'll most likely need to hire a lawyer to gather the right kind of evidence and represent you at the hearing. Still, if you're successful, the judge may order your ex to pay all of your costs for the contempt proceeding, including attorney's fees. (Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.18(G) (2023).)

When Can Alimony Be Modified in Ohio?

Judges in Ohio may modify a spousal support order by changing or ending the installment payments, but only if:

  • either spouse's circumstances have changed, and
  • the divorce decree or the couple's separation agreement (which was made part of the decree) authorizes a future modification.

In order to warrant a modification, the changed circumstances must meet all of the following requirements:

  • the change must be substantial
  • because of the change, the existing alimony award is no longer reasonable and appropriate, and
  • the spouses or the judge didn't take the change of circumstances into account as the basis for the existing alimony award or agreement, even if it would have been possible to foresee that the change would happen at some point.

As long as it meets those requirements, a change in circumstances could include any increase or an involuntary decrease in either spouse's income, living expenses, or medical expenses.

When deciding whether to modify spousal support, the judge must consider any statements in the original order about the purpose of the alimony payments. The judge must also enforce any voluntary agreement that the spouses have made about the issue. For instance, a couple might sign an agreement to end or change the amount of existing spousal support, or they might have included a provision in their original settlement agreement that alimony couldn't be modified in the future.

(Ohio Rev. Code § 3105.18(E), (F) (2023).)

How Does Remarriage or Cohabitation Affect Alimony?

Unlike almost every other state, Ohio law doesn't require that alimony will end automatically when the spouse who's receiving the support remarries. Rather, it's up to the judge to decide whether a spouse's remarriage (or cohabitation) is a substantial change of circumstances warranting a modification of spousal support (including terminating support altogether).

For example, a judge might conclude that spousal support should be modified when:

  • the recipient spouse is getting financial support from a new partner, which could be in the form of paying some expenses, or
  • the recipient is supporting the new partner to some degree.

In the first scenario, the theory is that the recipient doesn't need all or part of the alimony award because of the financial contributions from the new partner. In the second scenario, the spouse who's been paying alimony could argue that the money is actually going to support someone other than the recipient spouse.

Remarriage is obviously easy to prove. Cohabitation is more subjective, but Ohio courts have pointed to three main indications of cohabitation:

  • the partners are actually living together
  • the arrangement has lasted over time, and
  • the partners share expenses.

But judges must also look at other relevant circumstances, especially whether the partners have taken on the type of mutual obligations that married couples have. (Moell v. Moell, 98 Ohio App. 3d 748 (Ohio Ct. App. 1994).)

Taxes and Alimony

If your divorce was final before 2019, the payor spouse may continue to deduct alimony payments for purposes of federal income taxes, and the receiving spouse must report those payments as income. But for 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 payor spouse won't get the deduction.