As if the divorce process isn’t emotional enough, when couples begin discussing finances, the situation often becomes more complicated. Alimony (called spousal support in Ohio) is a payment that one spouse makes to the other to provide financial support during and/or after a divorce. Spousal support payments are intended to ensure that both spouses can pay ordinary expenses and maintain a lifestyle that’s similar to the one they enjoyed during the marriage.
As with most divorce-related issues, spouses can create an agreement that details the terms of support, and the court will honor it. However, spousal support isn’t automatic in Ohio, so when spouses can’t agree, the court must decide if the requesting spouse qualifies for support and if so, how much and for how long.
Spousal support in Ohio comes in two forms: temporary or permanent. Temporary support typically begins at the start of the divorce process and ends when the judge issues a new support order or judgment of divorce.
Temporary support is common in cases where there is a discrepancy between the spouse’s incomes, where one spouse regularly paid household and marital expenses, or when one spouse is unable to be financially independent during the divorce process.
Permanent spousal support seems like it’s never-ending, but it can be short or long-term. It generally means that a judge has ordered spousal support payments to continue after the divorce, in a certain amount and for a set period of time or until the court orders otherwise.
Courts tend to reserve permanent alimony for cases where one spouse is unable to be self-supporting. For example, in cases where one spouse left the workforce to raise a family or advance the other’s career, it might be difficult for that spouse to reenter the workforce without necessary job skills. Permanent spousal support can provide enough financial assistance to the supported spouse to get the required training and eventually become financially independent.
In a divorce, either spouse can request spousal support, but only spouses that can demonstrate a need for assistance along with the other’s ability to pay will qualify. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be married for any specific amount of time to be eligible for support. That said, the longer a couple is married, the more likely it is that the judge will award alimony.
In Ohio, unlike child support, which is calculated using a strict formula, there is no specific calculation for courts to follow when deciding whether to order alimony or when determining the type, amount, manner, and duration of payments.
Courts assume each spouse contributed equally to the marital income, for example, either by working outside of the home or by taking care of the home or children so that the other spouse could earn income. In addition, courts in Ohio must consider the following factors:
Although the law provides the above guidelines for the court, it doesn’t weigh the factors, meaning the judge should consider all the factors equally. The court has broad discretion when awarding spousal support, and the judge will determine the final award. (Oh. Rev. Code §3105.18.)
Temporary support awards are only valid during the divorce process and end when the judge creates a permanent order. It’s important to understand that when the judge grants temporary support, it's not a guarantee of a permanent award when the court finalizes the divorce.
Permanent spousal support may be short or long term. Short-term support is beneficial for those spouses who can become financially independent, but need time to get on their feet. Long-term support is more common in lengthy marriages, but the duration of support depends on the specifics of each case.
Both types of support will terminate if either party dies unless the agreement states otherwise. Generally, permanent support will end when the recipient spouse remarries or cohabitates with a new partner.
Once the court determines eligibility, the judge will specify payment information to the parties. Courts may order a spouse to make a lump-sum payment with personal or real property, or if the paying spouse has funds available, with cash. Most parties aren’t able to come up with the amount necessary to fulfill the support award upfront, so the court will usually order periodic payment installments for a specific amount time.
Most courts issue an income withholding order to the paying spouse’s employer, which requires payroll to withdraw the required payment from the spouse’s paycheck automatically. Automatic payments reduce the number of instances where a paying spouse can fail to pay.
Court-ordered payments aren’t optional, so if a paying spouse violates the order by failing to pay, the recipient can file a contempt motion requesting help from the court. If the judge finds the paying spouse in contempt (guilty of violating the order), that spouse faces fines, garnished wages, intercepted tax refunds, or a jail sentence.
In Ohio, for the court to modify an existing order, the requesting spouse must demonstrate that there has been a change of circumstances since the last order. A change of circumstances must be significant, such as an involuntary decrease in income, increased living expenses, illness, or disability.
Sometimes, the divorce decree will contain a provision that permits the court to review the support award after a period of time, regardless of a change of circumstances. In those cases, the judge may reapply the above factors to determine if the award is still appropriate.
When couples negotiate spousal support, a primary concern for both parties is how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will treat the award. In cases settled before December 31, 2018, the IRS permitted the paying spouse to claim payments as a tax-deduction and required the recipient to report the payments as income.
New tax laws changed how the IRS treats spousal support, which may impact your negotiations. For any divorce settled on or after January 1, 2019, the payments are no longer tax-deductible for the payer, and the recipient will no longer report the payments as income.
When you’re negotiating your spousal support award, it’s essential to keep the new tax law in mind. If you have questions about how payments will affect your bottom-line during tax season, contact an experienced family law attorney in your area for assistance.