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What's Fair? Deciding on Alimony

Here are guidelines for coming up with a fair and appropriate amount for alimony payment, post-divorce.

What's Fair? Deciding on Alimony

How do you know how much maintenance to pay or to demand? There are well-established parameters. In general, courts look at the following factors to determine the size of the support check. It follows, of course, that lawyers who try to settle a case out of court need to look at these factors (or you and your spouse must consider them if you're trying to do it yourselves):

  • Your income. Is there sufficient money to enable both of you to enjoy the same lifestyle, or are you both going to have to cut back?

  • The length of the marriage. The longer the marriage, the stronger the claim for support.

  • Your ages. Younger people are thought to be better able to find work. Older people nearing retirement might be unable to pay support for a long period of time.

    Social Security might be an issue if either of you is close to retirement age. In a marriage of more than 10 years, if the non-working spouse does not remarry, at retirement age, he or she will be able to receive benefits based on the ex's Social Security record.

  • Your health. Is one of you ill and unable to work? That could affect how much will be paid and for how long it will be paid.

  • Job sacrifices you made during the marriage. Did you give up a good position because your spouse had to relocate for her job? Maybe you never used your degree because you worked as a bookkeeper in your husband's business. Whether your sacrifice was obvious or subtle, it could affect the duration of your support award.

  • Education and job skills. The easier you can find work, the shorter the duration of your support.

  • Who the children are going to live with. If they're going to live with you and that shortens the time you can spend working each day, you might be entitled to more maintenance than if the children were living with your spouse or if you had no children.

  • Independent income sources. Maybe you have a trust or other source of income. You never touched it during the marriage because you planned to leave it all to your children. Now, its existence could affect the amount of support you'll receive or have to pay.

  • Distribution of other assets. If you and your spouse accumulated a lot during the marriage that will be split, you might not be entitled to any maintenance. Let's say your wife built up her medical practice while you were married, and now she has to pay you half its value of $350,000. Depending on where you live, the receipt of that lump sum could reduce additional support payments.

  • Marital fault. In some jurisdictions, the reason for the breakup of your marriage could affect the duration and amount of support.

  • The tax implications of the payment. If you have to pay taxes on what you receive, you might need a larger amount than if you do not have to pay taxes on the payment.

  • The past standard of living, assuming that it was based on fully reported income. In many states, the idea of maintaining the same lifestyle is part of the alimony statute and is a goal, although it may not be reached.

Judges and lawyers look at these factors to determine how much maintenance one of you should pay the other. The single most important factor is, of course, how much money there is to go around.

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