Alimony is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to the other during the divorce process and sometimes, for a period after.
Judges in Oklahoma can award temporary support, short-term (rehabilitative), or permanent alimony. A divorce can take several months to years to complete, and it's common for a financially dependent spouse to need help paying for basic living expenses and necessities during the process. If the court orders temporary alimony, it will end when the judge finalizes the divorce. (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. § 43-110 (B))
In most divorces, both spouses have the potential to become self-supporting, but for some, it takes additional time (and money) to get there. Rehabilitative support is the court's method of helping a dependent spouse become financially independent by allowing the recipient time to acquire job skills or the education necessary to find suitable employment.
Rehabilitative alimony is common in marriages where one spouse left the workforce for a period to raise a family or to support the other's career. Judges will typically place an end date on short-term alimony, though if you are the supported spouse and need more time to become self-supporting, you can ask the court to extend alimony later.
Permanent, or long-term, alimony is less common than in past decades, especially in short-term marriages. Judges in Oklahoma don't have specific rules for awarding permanent alimony, but usually limit it to long-term marriages where one spouse is unable to become self-supporting due to advanced age, physical or mental disability, or a long absence from the job market. It's rare for judges to award permanent support indefinitely, but if the court doesn't specify an end date, alimony will continue until either spouse requests a modification or termination.
Rehabilitative and permanent alimony end if the recipient dies or remarries (unless, within 90 days of the marriage, the recipient can demonstrate an on-going need for support.) (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. § 43-134 (B).)
Either spouse can request alimony in the divorce action, but it's not an automatic right. Requesting spouses must demonstrate a need for support and that the paying spouse can afford payments and remain financially independent.
Unlike other states, Oklahoma doesn't have a specific set of guidelines for the court to evaluate when determining an alimony award. However, judges most commonly consider:
In Oklahoma, judges have broad discretion when deciding the type, amount, and duration of support. Couples considering alimony in their divorce may want to negotiate the terms of their alimony award before asking the court to do it for them.
After a judge decides the type, amount, and duration of support, it will determine an appropriate payment method for alimony. Supporting spouses may choose to pay in one lump-sum, which eliminates on-going court oversight and satisfies the alimony judgment entirely. Lump-sum payments are beneficial in families where the paying spouse is self-employed or doesn't have a steady income.
The most common form of payment is periodic, usually monthly or quarterly, which paying spouse makes through wage garnishment, direct deposit, or checks to the recipient. In some cases, the court will order periodic payments through an income withholding order, which directs the supporting spouse's employer to withhold alimony from the employee's paycheck and send it directly to the recipient or the court clerk. (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. § 43-136 (A))
Courts may also require a supporting spouse to transfer the title of real property or personal property instead of cash payments. (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. § 43-121 (B))
If you're not receiving court-ordered payments, you can file a formal request for enforcement with the court. The court may charge your spouse with contempt of court, which can result in fines, attorney's fees, liens against bank accounts or tax refunds, or in the most serious cases, jail time.
Lump-sum payments and transfers of property are non-modifiable, and the court will not review these types of awards later. (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. § 43-134 (A).) However, if you're receiving periodic payments, and you can demonstrate that since the last order, there's been a change of circumstances relating to the need for support or ability to pay, a judge can review your case. The court won't modify support unless the new circumstances are substantial and ongoing and make the current award unreasonable.
For example, if your spouse is receiving rehabilitative alimony and during job training, acquires employment that pays enough for your spouse to be financially independent, the court will generally review the order and modify it to reflect the changes. (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. § 43-134 (D))
If the supported spouse begins to cohabitate with a third party while receiving alimony, the paying spouse can file a motion for modification or termination and the court will review the case. Cohabitation refers to continuously living together with a third party in a marriage-like relationship. (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. § 43-134 (C))
Generally, for alimony agreements and/or orders finalized on or before December 31, 2018, paying spouses can deduct these payments on their tax returns, and supported spouse must report the payments as income.
The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the tax deduction benefit and reporting requirements for all alimony agreements and/or orders finalized on or after January 1, 2019.
If you're negotiating the terms of your alimony award, it's critical that you speak with an experienced divorce attorney to understand how the new tax laws impact your case.