Alimony is a court-ordered payment from one former spouse to another during the divorce or for a period after the divorce. Oregon courts refer to alimony as “spousal support,” and judges award it to spouses who need help paying for the divorce, require assistance to meet basic needs or to preserve a marital lifestyle, or help a spouse become financially independent. (Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 107.095 (1)(a))
Judges in Oregon can award temporary spousal support to a dependent spouse during the legal divorce process. If a judge orders temporary support, the order is effective as soon as the judge signs it and lasts until the divorce is final or the judge changes the order.
Transitional support is common when a dependent spouse can become financially independent, but needs financial support and time to get an education or job training required to reenter or advance in the workplace. Transitional support is short-term and usually reserved for short or mid-length marriages.
Compensatory spousal support is unique in that it repays a spouse for financial contributions made during the marriage to the other spouse’s education, training, or earning capacity. For example, if you financially supported your husband while he attended medical school, the court may order him to pay you compensatory support, so you recoup your costs. Compensatory support ends when the supporting spouse pays the order in full.
Spousal maintenance is a form of alimony the court typically reserves for long-term marriages and allows the supported spouse to maintain a similar standard of living to the marital lifestyle.
Maintenance is also appropriate in cases where a spouse is unable to become self-supporting due to age, disability, or absence from the workforce. The court may set an end date for spousal maintenance or may order indefinite (permanent) support.
Oregon is unique in that state statutes have a different set of factors (although they share some similarities) for judges to follow for each type of support. The first step in qualifying for spousal support is for the requesting spouse to prove financial need and that the other spouse can afford to pay. The court will then decide the appropriate type of support (transitional, compensatory, or maintenance) and determine the amount and duration of support.
The court must apply specific factors for each type of support:
The court can order one type of support or a combination, depending on the needs of the spouses. There’s no specific formula for the court to use to decide spousal support, and judges have complete control over the final award. Couples who would like to decide the type, duration, and amount of spousal support can work together to negotiate the terms, and the court will approve it.
Judges can order a lump-sum payment of support, periodic payments, or a transfer of property ownership. Lump-sum payments are useful in cases where the supporting spouse is self-employed or otherwise has an unsteady income and don’t require court oversight once the paying spouse satisfies the order.
Periodic payments are the most common form of payment, and judges usually order monthly or quarterly installments. Couples can decide the method of payment, such as a direct deposit, Venmo, or personal check. Courts can include an income withholding order, which directs the paying spouse’s employer to withhold spousal support from the employee’s paycheck and forward it to the supported spouse.
In some cases, especially if a paying spouse has a significant amount of property from the divorce, the court will order the supporting spouse to transfer ownership of real or personal property to the recipient. (Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 107.105 (1)(d))
If your spouse isn’t paying court-ordered support, you can ask the court to enforce the award by filing a formal motion with your local court. Penalties for failing to pay may include attorney's fees, fines, or even jail time.
Either spouse can ask the court to modify or terminate spousal support. However, the judge will only change or end the award if the requesting spouse demonstrates a substantial change in circumstances to either spouse, since the last order. For compensatory support, the spouse asking for modification must show an involuntary, extraordinary, and unanticipated change that reduced the paying spouse's ability to pay or earn income. (Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 107.135 (3)(a))
If you finalized your alimony agreement and/or order on or before December 31, 2018, spousal support payments are tax-deductible to the paying spouse and reportable income to the recipient.
However, alimony agreements and/or orders finalized on or after January 1, 2019, are affected by recent changes to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which eliminates the tax deduction benefit and reporting requirements for spousal support.
If you're going through a divorce and may have to pay or request alimony, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area.