What Factors Determine Spousal Support?

Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Samuel E. Bassett with Minton, Bassett, Flores and Carsey.

What Factors Determine Spousal Support?
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Spousal support, also referred to as maintenance or alimony, is a form of financial support paid from one spouse to another following a legal separation or divorce. Spousal support can vary significantly based on a variety of factors, including monthly expenses, income, and extenuating factors such as ongoing medical care and more. Spousal support may be limited depending on the state, and may or may not have an end date.

Many judges follow the 40% rule in regard to spousal support, although this can vary. This rule ensures that the person paying spousal support is left with no less than 40% of their income after all the necessary payments are made to their ex-spouse. In many cases, spousal maintenance is set to end when the recipient of the support remarries or dies. However, it may be possible to modify the end date of the support by filing a petition for modification. If one spouse does not need or desire support from the other, a support order may also be waived.

The following factors may help determine spousal support:

  • Monthly income per spouse
  • Whether one spouse stays or stayed home to care for children/household duties during the marriage
  • Reasonable monthly expenses
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Savings or retirement account contributed to during the marriage

Additionally, the above factors are largely based on “reasonable expectations” rather than hard numbers. For example, if one spouse can reasonably be expected to make a certain amount of income each month but is currently underemployed, the judge may decide to factor in the income that a spouse is expected to make rather than what they currently make. Spousal support may also be determined by any prenuptial agreements made prior to the marriage assuming the agreement meets all the legal requirements for the state in which the divorce is filed.

It’s not uncommon for financial situations to change shortly preceding a divorce.

Factors like employment status, income, and expenses can occasionally be volatile; it’s not uncommon for one or more of these factors to change or shift prior to the divorce, requiring different considerations in the support decision. When this is the case it may be possible to negotiate with the other spouse and their lawyer, and/or to request a hearing for a judge to consider modifications.

However, changes may also arise which are entirely legitimate. For example, “sudden income deficiency syndrome” or “SIDS” is a phenomenon where an employed spouse or business owner suddenly loses their job, takes a pay cut, or reports lower numbers in order to argue for a lower amount of support. If you suspect your spouse may be engaging in these or other unscrupulous behaviors to reduce the amount of spousal or child support, it’s important to discuss these suspicions with your attorney. In this situation, it may be possible to argue for an assignation of support based on reasonable expectations rather than the current numbers.

To learn more about how spousal support is determined or to discuss your case, reach out to an experienced divorce attorney in your area.

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