Alimony—also called spousal support in North Dakota—is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to the other during a divorce and/or for a period after.
Temporary support is available after you file the divorce petition, but before the judge finalizes your divorce. The goal of temporary support is to ensure that neither spouse is financially destitute or relying on public resources to get by while going through a divorce. Temporary support ends when the divorce is final. (N.D. Cent. Code § 14-05-23 (2017).)
Rehabilitative support is intended to help the supported spouse acquire an education, training, or work experience that will enable the spouse to become self-supporting after the divorce. (Bullock v. Bullock, 376 N.W.2d 30, 31 (N.D. 1985).)
The court expects both spouses to become financially independent, but also understands it may take some spouses longer than others to find proper employment. Rehabilitative support is temporary and only lasts for as long as the court believes it's necessary for the supported spouse to become educated or skilled enough to find a job that meets the spouse’s financial needs.
Truly permanent spousal support that lasts a lifetime is rare, but typically continues longer than rehabilitative support. However, the court reserves permanent awards for cases where a financially dependent spouse can’t become self-supporting due to significant circumstances, like advanced age, lengthy absence from the job market, or physical or mental disability.
Unless the spouses agree otherwise, spousal support terminates if the supported spouse remarries or cohabitates in a “marriage-like” relationship with another person for more than one year. (N.D. Cent. Code § 14-05-24.1 (2017).)
Spousal support is gender-neutral, meaning either spouse can request it, and the court will grant it if a spouse is financially dependent on the other. However, spousal support awards are not automatic, and the court must evaluate the following to determine if support is appropriate and if it is, the amount and duration necessary:
In the end, judges have broad discretion when deciding spousal support awards. Unlike child support awards, there’s no specific formula for judges to use when determining the type, amount, or duration of alimony. Couples who would like to control the details of the spousal support award can agree to work together to create an agreement that works for both spouses.
Once the court decides the spousal support amount and duration, there are different payment methods available. Spouses may choose to pay support in one lump sum, which eliminates the need for ongoing payments in the future. However, most spouses choose to pay periodically—monthly or quarterly—because the amount is more manageable.
Couples can choose the payment method and frequency of spousal support, but if a paying spouse is uncooperative, the court may create an income withholding order, which instructs the supporting spouse’s employer to deduct the spousal support amount from the employee’s paycheck and forward it to the recipient. Income withholding orders eliminate the guesswork of payment amounts or dates and allow the court to continue oversight on the case.
If the supporting spouse doesn’t have a regular paycheck or a job, the court may order a transfer of property to settle the spousal support requirement. For example, if a spouse owns multiple homes, but doesn’t have a steady income to pay spousal support, the court may order the spouse to transfer title to the dependent spouse to satisfy the support order.
If you aren’t receiving your court-ordered payments, you can a judge for help by filing a motion to enforce your order. The supporting spouse must abide by the court order, and failure to do so may result in fines, court fees, or even jail time.
Unless the couple agrees otherwise, the court can change support orders in the future. However, lump-sum spousal support and property transfers are non-modifiable. The spouse requesting a modification must show that, since the last order, circumstances of at least one spouse have changed enough to justify an adjustment to the amount or duration of the award.
For example, if the supported spouse completed a degree program and found a high-paying job sooner than the court’s end date of rehabilitative support, this may qualify for a reduction or termination of support. (N.D. Cent. Code § 14-05-24.1 (1) (2017).)
For divorces finalized on or before December 31, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) permitted paying spouses to deduct spousal support payments and required spouses receiving support to report the payments as income.
Under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, beginning on January 1, 2019, spousal support is no longer deductible and will not be counted as income. These changes play a significant part in today’s spousal support awards, and judges and spouses alike should understand the ramification of the new tax rules.