When you’re going through a divorce, it’s common to feel overwhelmed and emotional. Couples will need to grasp not only that their marriage is over, but now, they have to divide marital property, assign debts, determine who will care for the children and whether one spouse must financially support the other after the divorce.
Alimony is one of the most contentious topics in divorce, and even the most settlement-minded couples sometimes reach a roadblock when discussing it. Alimony, also referred to as spousal support, is a payment from one spouse to the other, typically monthly, for a period that allows the recipient to become financially independent. Particularly if one spouse has focused on a career outside of the home and the other has focused on domestic responsibilities. In these situations, courts generally require the higher earner to assist the lower earner in covering living expenses and maintaining something close to the marital standard of living for at least some period.
The type and duration of alimony depends on each case, but typically, Arkansas judges will award either:
Divorce isn’t a quick process, and courts recognize that going from a two-income household to one is often difficult, especially if one parent was the primary earner in the home. Judges can issue a temporary alimony award to the lower-earning spouse that will provide financial support from the time of the divorce filing to the final order. Temporary support orders end when the judge creates a new post-divorce order or finalizes the divorce.
The most common type of alimony in Arkansas is rehabilitative support, which is temporary in nature. The goal of rehabilitative support is to allow a spouse to find a job or to obtain training or education to improve employment prospects. Often, a lower-earning spouse can’t take the time necessary to gain the proper skills if there’s no financial assistance. Rehabilitative support is appropriate in cases where one spouse stepped away from a job to raise the couple’s family, provide a home for the other spouse, or to help further the other spouse’s career during the marriage. When the court orders rehabilitative support, the judge will determine an automatic end date or will issue a date for reevaluation.
Permanent alimony was once common but is becoming increasingly rare, especially in short-term marriages. Permanent alimony is generally reserved for spouses with very poor employment prospects due to ill health or advanced age. A couple can also agree between themselves that one spouse will receive long-term or permanent alimony.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no gender requirement for alimony, meaning either spouse can request financial support during and after the divorce. However, before awarding any alimony, an Arkansas court must find that one spouse has financial need and the other can pay. Unlike other states, there are no set guidelines for judges in Arkansas to follow, but typically the court will evaluate the following:
There is no absolute formula for calculating alimony in Arkansas. However, the Arkansas Supreme Court has indicated, in its child support guidelines, that an award of 20% of the other spouse’s net take-home pay (in addition to child support) is presumably an appropriate temporary support award for a dependent spouse who is also a custodial parent. (Ark. Code Ann. §9-12-212.)
In calculating rehabilitative support, the paying spouse or the court may require the requesting spouse to provide a plan of rehabilitation for the court to consider in determining whether the plan is feasible and the amount and duration of the award. (Ark. Code Ann. §9-12-312(b).)
When calculating spousal support, a court may consider the guidelines, but must also consider all other relevant factors. A judge has significant discretion in deciding how much alimony to award or whether to award it at all.
Like with all divorce-related matters, couples can negotiate the terms for alimony in their divorce. If the paying spouse can afford it, the court will often allow a lump-sum payment of cash or property as a means to eliminate future alimony requirements. However, most couples don’t have the funds or ability to pay the lump-sum, so the standard for alimony is usually a periodic, monthly payment.
If you can’t agree, the court will decide the term, amount, duration, and payment methods for support. Typically, the court will issue an income withholding order, which permits the payer’s employer to withhold the amount for support automatically from the employee’s paycheck. An income withholding order often reduces the number of cases where one party doesn’t pay the court-ordered fees, thus eliminating the need for support enforcement.
In cases where the paying spouse doesn’t pay, the recipient can file a motion with the court requesting help recovering the payments. Failure to pay alimony may result in fines, court appearances, loss of privileges (like a driver’s or professional license), or jail.
Unless the couple agrees not to seek any changes to the original spousal support award in court, either spouse can ask the court to modify alimony payments due to a significant and material change in circumstances. Additionally, if the court asked the supported spouse to create a rehabilitative plan, and the recipient fails to meet the requirements of that plan, the payor may ask the court to review or change the award.
Absent an agreement between the spouses, alimony will terminate automatically if any of the following occur:
For couples divorced before December 31, 2018, alimony payments are tax-deductible to the paying spouse, and the recipient must report (and pay taxes on) the payments as income.
However, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminates the alimony tax deduction and reporting requirement for alimony agreements and orders finalized on or after January 1, 2019.
If you’re going through a divorce with alimony, it would be beneficial to discuss your case with an experienced divorce attorney in your area.