Alimony (also known as "maintenance" or "spousal support") is intended to provide some financial assistance for a spouse who needs it during the divorce process and for a period of time after the final divorce. If you or your spouse is (or will be) requesting alimony as part of the process of filing for divorce in Oklahoma, 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).
Oklahoma statutes don't specify types of alimony that may be awarded after a divorce. Rather, the law simply states that judges should award alimony that they believe is reasonable under the circumstances of each case. In (Okla. Stat. tit. 43, § 121(B) (2023).)
This is unusual, because most states categorize different types of alimony awards, the most common being "rehabilitative" and "permanent." In those states, rehabilitative alimony is meant to provide financial support for a certain period of time while the recipient spouse gains the education, training, and skills needed to become self-supporting. Permanent or indefinite alimony is usually reserved for spouses coming out of lengthy marriages who aren't likely ever to be fully self-supporting due to age or physical limitations.
Even though Oklahoma law doesn't apply labels to different types of post-divorce alimony, that doesn't mean that judges won't apply the underlying principles of rehabilitative and long-term alimony in making their decisions on the amount and duration of an alimony award. The reality is that they do, again based on the circumstances of each case (more on that below). Still, it's important to know that Oklahoma doesn't allow alimony awards that will last for an indefinite amount of time.
Note also that the judges may award temporary alimony (known also as "spousal maintenance") while the divorce process moves forward. (Okla. Stat. tit. 43, § 110(B)(1) (2023).)
Unlike many other states, Oklahoma laws don't set out a list of factors for judges to consider when making alimony decisions. However, the state's courts have held that judges must base those decisions primarily on the requesting spouse's demonstrated need for support and the other spouse's ability to pay. Judges should also consider other relevant factors, including:
(Peyravy v. Peyravy, 84 P.3d 720 (Okla. Sup. Ct. 2003).)
Oklahoma courts have also held that either spouse's misconduct isn't normally a relevant factor in alimony decisions, unless it impacted a spouse's need for support—such as when a spouse's actions damaged the other spouse's physical or emotional health. But alimony should never be used to punish a spouse for misdeeds. (Smith v. Smith, 847 P.2d 827 (Okla. Ct. App. 1993).)
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 will order the higher-earning spouse to pay alimony to the lower-earning spouse.
Under Oklahoma law, alimony may be paid in the form of property or money. The judge may award the recipient some of the other spouse's personal property or real estate. Or the judge may award alimony as a set amount of money (known as a "money judgment"), to be paid either in a lump sum or installments (usually monthly) over a certain period of time. For example, the court may fix the amount of alimony at $50,000, to be paid at a rate of $1,000 per month for 50 months. (Okla. Stat. tit. 43, § 121(B) (2023).)
The judge's order may include requirements for how alimony should be paid. For instance, the judge may order a spouse to pay alimony installments to the court clerk's office, which will send the money to the recipient. (Okla. Stat. tit. 43, § 136(A) (2023).) Or the judge may order an employer to withhold alimony installments from the paying spouse's wages.
If your spouse doesn't pay court-ordered alimony, you may file a motion (a legal request) to have your spouse held in contempt of court. Among other things, this could result in fines or even jail time.
Temporary alimony ends when the divorce is finalized. Post-divorce alimony will end when the total amount of the award has been paid.
The obligation to pay alimony ends when either spouse dies. But judges may order a spouse who owes alimony to obtain life insurance as a form of security for the remaining balance on the total amount. (Younge v. Younge, 41 P.3d 966 (Okla. Sup. Ct. 2002).)
Generally, alimony payments will also end when the receipient remarries. But that won't be automatic. The paying spouse will need to apply to the court for a termination order. Also, the recipient may apply (within 90 days after remarrying) to have the support payments continued. If that spouse can show that there's a continuing need for support and that the circumstances wouldn't make ongoing payments unfair, the judge may decide not to end the payments. (Okla. Stat. tit. 43, § 134(B) (2023).)
If you're receiving alimony through periodic payments, and you can prove that there's been a change of circumstances that affects the need for support or the ability to pay, a judge may review your case. But the judge won't modify alimony unless the changed circumstances are both substantial and ongoing, and they make the current award unreasonable. (Okla. Stat. tit. 43 § 134(D) (2023).)
If the recipient spouse starts living with a new partner in a marriage-type of relationship (cohabitation), the paying spouse may file a motion for modification or termination of the alimony payments. (Okla. Stat. tit. 43, § 134(C) (2023).)
If your divorce was final before 2019, the paying spouse may continue to deduct alimony payments for purposes of federal income taxes, and the recipient 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 maintenance 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.