When a married couple divorces, a court will need to decide how to divide property and possible child custody and alimony issues. While alimony isn't awarded in every case, a judge will award alimony if one spouse has a demonstrated financial need and the other spouse has the ability to pay alimony.
Once ordered, alimony won't necessarily last forever. Certain events can terminate your alimony award or obligation. This article provides an overview of alimony and explains the impact of a supported spouse's remarriage or cohabitation on alimony under Oregon law. If you have additional questions about remarriage and alimony in Oregon after reading this article, you should contact a local family law attorney.
"Alimony", also called "spousal support" in Oregon, is usually paid by the higher earning spouse ("paying spouse") to the lower-earning spouse ("supported spouse"). There are three (3) types of alimony awards in Oregon: transitional support, compensatory, and spousal maintenance. A judge may award one or all three types of alimony in your case.
A "transitional support" award is given to a spouse to provide money for education or training expenses needed to re-enter the workplace. "Compensatory spousal support" is awarded when one spouse has made a significant financial or other contribution to the other spouse's career, education, or earning capacity. "Spousal maintenance" refers to money paid by one spouse to help the supported spouse meet his or her financial needs. In Oregon, a spousal support award can be paid in a single, lump-sum payment, or over time as a periodic alimony award.
Courts consider several factors when deciding whether to award alimony and how much, a judge will consider the following factors:
In Oregon, a judge may also consider either spouse's marital fault when awarding alimony. This means in divorces involving infidelity or abuse, the at-fault spouse may have to pay "punitive alimony". If you would like to know more about alimony in Oregon, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Oregon.
A paying spouse might wonder how to avoid paying alimony in Oregon. Under Oregon law, a spousal support award automatically terminates upon the death of either spouse. Otherwise, to reduce or terminate an alimony award, the spouse seeking the change should file a motion to modify alimony in the circuit court clerk's office for your county. The court will then schedule a hearing where you and your spouse will argue whether alimony should be changed. You should be prepared to present any witnesses or evidence that help establish the change in financial circumstances that warrant modifying the alimony award.
Oregon courts will consider modifying or terminating alimony when either spouse has experienced a substantial change in financial circumstances. Generally, the change in financial circumstances must be involuntary and unexpected. In other words, a paying spouse can't get the alimony payment reduced by just quitting his or her job. The judge may also modify alimony when the supported spouse's income increases or needs decrease. Oregon courts are careful to consider all factors to make sure a paying spouse's reduction of income was in good faith and not simply to avoid paying alimony.
When the court grants a change in alimony, the judge may order the change to be retroactive to the date the paying spouse served the motion to modify on the supported spouse. The paying spouse will still have to pay any alimony that accrued prior to serving the motion to modify on the supported spouse.
In Oregon, unlike some other states, a supported spouse's remarriage is not legal grounds to automatically terminate alimony. To end alimony, the paying spouse must prove that the supported spouse's remarriage substantially improved his or her financial situation. For example, if a wife receiving alimony gets remarried but can't find a job and has the same or higher expenses as she did before getting married, a court is unlikely to terminate or reduce her alimony award.
Courts will also consider the purpose of the original alimony award before modifying the payments after a supported spouse's remarriage. For example, if a court awards a husband alimony to allow him to go back to school and get an education, and the husband remarries a successful executive, a judge may still allow alimony because its original purpose was to provide the husband with an education—a fact that hasn't changed even though his overall financial situation may have improved.
An Oregon just won't modify alimony based on a supported spouse's cohabitation unless there's also been a substantial change in the supported spouse's financial circumstances. "Cohabitation" is more than a relationship. It means that two people are living together in a romantic relationship, similar to that of a married couple. If a paying spouse discovers that the supported spouse is living with someone else and his or her standard of living has improved, the paying spouse has good grounds to seek a spousal support modification.
For example, in one Oregon case a husband found out that his former wife had moved in with a boyfriend, wore an expensive engagement ring from the boyfriend, and jointly owned property with her boyfriend. The court terminated the alimony award because it determined that the ex-wife was cohabitating and she had sufficient combined income to support herself.
If you are paying alimony to an ex-spouse who is cohabiting with another person, you should attempt to gather evidence that his or her financial situation has improved before filing a motion to modify alimony. If you have additional questions about remarriage and alimony, contact an Oregon family law attorney for help.