Alimony (called "spousal support" in Oregon) is intended to provide some financial assistance for a spouse who needs it during the divorce process and after the divorce is final. If you or your spouse is (or will be) requesting alimony as part of the process of filing for divorce in Oregon, you should understand how it works and how judges make alimony decisions—even if you hope to reach an agreement on the issue and avoid a trial (more on that below).
Oregon law provides for four types of alimony:
A judge may award one or more types of alimony in a case, depending on the circumstances.
After one spouse files for divorce, the judge may order either spouse to pay temporary alimony when the other spouse needs it while the divorce works its way through the legal system. The judge may also order one spouse to pay for the other's costs for the divorce itself, including attorney's fees and expert witness fees. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 107.095(1)(a) (2023).)
It's worth pointing out that the amount of an award for temporary support won't necessarily be the same as any award for spousal support after the divorce is final.
Transitional spousal support is meant for spouses who need financial assistance for a period of time after the divorce, in order to get the education and training that will allow them to reenter the job market or move ahead in their careers so that they can become self-supporting. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 107.105(1)(d)(A) (2023).)
Judges in Oregon may award compensatory support when:
For example, you might receive compensatory spousal support if you worked and supported the family while your spouse attended medical school, or if you worked without a salary in your spouse's fledgling business. (Or. Rev. Stat. 107.105(1)(d)(B) (2013).)
Spousal maintenance is a form of alimony that's typically reserved for spouses coming out of long-term marriages, with an eye toward allowing the supported spouse to maintain a standard of living similar to what the couple had during the marriage. Spousal maintenance may have a set end date or be indefinite. (Or. Rev. Stat. 107.105(1)(d)(C) (2013).)
Oregon law lists a number of factors that judges must consider when they're deciding whether to award spousal support after a divorce and, if so, how much to award and how long the support will last. It's important to remember that the law gives judges a great deal of leeway in these decisions.
For any type of post-divorce alimony, the judge will consider:
Beyond that, there are other factors that are specific to the type of spousal support requested.
In addition to the factors applicable to all types of alimony,judges will the following in their decisions on transitional alimony:
(Or. Rev. Stat. § 107.105(1)(d)(A) (2023).)
For compensatory spousal support, judges must also consider the following circumstances:
(Or. Rev. Stat. § 107.105(1)(d)(B) (2023).)
When judges are deciding on spousal maintenance, they must also consider:
(Or. Rev. Stat. § 107.105(1)(d)(C) (2023).)
Judges may order one type of support or a combination, depending on the spouses' needs. For example, a judge might order an amount for transitional alimony until the receiving spouse becomes employed, followed by an award for spousal maintenance at a reduced amount. This type of "step-down" award is fairly common in cases where the supported spouse could gain the skills needed to get a job but isn't likely to become self-supporting because of age, health, or simply a long absence from the job market during a lengthy marriage.
Be aware that either spouse's fault in causing the breakdown of the marriage (or other misconduct) normally won't be a factor in awarding spousal support. Oregon courts have consistently held that judges shouldn't use spousal support as a way to punish spouses for their behavior.
However, if misconduct has affected a couple's finances, it might play a role in alimony decisions. Let's say one spouse purposely injured the other, to the point where it adversely affected the injured spouse's ability to become gainfully employed. The judge could see fit to take that into consideration when awarding alimony. Similarly, a judge might award compensatory alimony if a spouse's financial mismanagement had a negative impact on the amount of marital property available for division in the divorce or on the supported spouse's employment prospects. (In re Marriage of Steele, 293 P.3d 1077 (Or. Ct. App. 2012).)
Either spouse may request alimony, regardless of gender. Typically, if one spouse needs financial help and the other can afford to pay it, the judge may order the higher-earning spouse to pay alimony to the lower-earning spouse.
There are different ways to handle payment of spousal support in Oregon. Most spousal support awards are periodic payments (monthly is most common).
But judges may also order a one-time lump-sum payment, if that's feasible. This simplifies things because you don't have to worry about keeping tabs on periodic payments, particularly if the paying spouse is less than dependable when it comes to money. In some cases, especially if a paying spouse has a significant amount of property, the judge might order that spouse to transfer some of that property to the recipient spouse as a substitute for spousal support. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 107.105(1)(d) (2023).)
If your spouse isn't meeting the court-ordered schedule for making payments, you may file a motion asking the court to enforce the alimony award. You may request an order for payments to be withheld from your spouse's wages or even ask the judge to hold your spouse in contempt of court. A spouse who's found in contempt could face a fine or even jail time.
Temporary alimony ends when the judge signs the final judgment of dissolution of marriage. For all other types of post-divorce spousal support, the order will state when the obligation to pay alimony ends. The duration of the order will depend on the particular circumstances, in light of the factors discussed above.
Any type of alimony will end when either spouse dies. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 107.105(1)(d) (2023).)
Unlike most states, Oregon law doesn't provide that alimony will always end when the receiving spouse remarries. And the state's supreme court has held that alimony orders may not provide for automatic termination of spousal support on remarriage, unless there's a good reason for that (supported by the evidence in the case), or unless the parties agreed otherwise in a prenup or divorce settlement agreement. (Matter of Marriage of Grove, 571 P.2d 477 (Or. Sup. Ct. 1977).)
Either spouse can ask the court to modify or terminate spousal support. But in order to succeed, requesting spouses must be able to prove that there's been a substantial change in their economic circumstances, which may include (but isn't limited to) a substantial change in the cost of their reasonable and necessary expenses.
The standard is more stringent for compensatory spousal support. In these cases, the court may modify the alimony award only if the paying spouse shows that there's been an involuntary, extraordinary, and unanticipated change that reduces the paying spouse's earning capacity. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 107.135(3) (2023).)
Note that a receiving spouse's remarriage—while not generally a reason for automatic termination of spousal support—may be considered a change of circumstances warranting a discontinuation or reduction of alimony, depending on the facts in each particular case.
Be aware that in most situations, unless you and your spouse have an agreement about the proposed changes, alimony modification proceedings involve complicated legal issues that are best handled by an experienced family law attorney.
If your divorce was final before 2019, the paying spouse may continue to deduct alimony payments for purposes of federal income taxes, and the receiving spouse must report those payments as income. However, for all 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 paying spouse won't get the deduction.
As with all other issues in your divorce, you and your spouse always have the option of reaching a settlement agreement that addresses whether one of you will pay alimony and, if so, how much the payments will be, and how long the spousal support will last.
If you're having trouble agreeing about any divorce issues, divorce mediation might help you resolve your differences. And if you're hesitant about negotiating a compromise, it may help to know that going to trial increases the cost of divorce exponentially, as well as making the process more stressful and take longer.