Alimony Awarded in Divorce Proceedings
Utah, like many other states, still provides that alimony, or spousal support, may be paid by one spouse to the other in the event of divorce. The concept of alimony stems from the fact that in some situations, one spouse may be economically disadvantaged as a result of the termination of the marriage. Over the years, the factors the court must consider in awarding alimony have changed and expanded to the point where those factors have been codified and are contained in Section 30-3-5(8) of the Utah Code which are:
- The financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse;
- The recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income;
- The ability of the payor spouse to provide support;
- The length of the marriage;
- Whether the recipient spouse has custody of minor children requiring support;
- Whether the recipient spouse worked in a business owned or operated by the payor spouse;
- Whether the recipient spouse directly contributed to any increase in the payor spouse’s skill by paying for education received by the payor spouse or allowing the payor spouse to attend school during the marriage.
In divorce litigation, each one of these factors can be, and usually are, hotly contested issues. Other than child custody, there is probably no other issue that is more emotionally charged than is alimony. This is due in part to attitudes, feelings and emotions by one spouse that he or she should no longer be required to financially provide for and support their former spounse and those of the other spouse who believes and feels that they have a legitimate need and, to a certain degree, an entitlement, to alimony.
The courts have broad latitude and discretion in deciding whether and to what extent alimony may be awarded. In fact, the applicable statutes provide that the courts shall consider all relevant facts and equitable principles and may award alimony based upon the standard of living which exists at the time of trial. In some situations, the court may actually “equalize” the parties’ standard of living by equally dividing the incomes and awarding alimony accordingly.
One interesting element which the court may consider in awarding alimony is the issue of the “fault” of the parties. While Utah is a “no-fault” state when it comes to the grounds necessary to actually grant a divorce, the court can consider the actions and behaviors of a spouse which may have led to the breakdown of the marriage. Not surprisingly, probably the most obvious “fault” issue is infidelity of one of the spouses. However, there are many things which can include illegal drug use, spousal or child abuse, fraudulent management of marital finances and assets, as well as any other illegal activity.
There are tax consequences for both of the spouses in cases where alimony is awarded. Generally, the spouse who receives alimony must report it as taxable income and pay the applicable income tax on the monies he or she receives. The paying spouse actually derives a tax benefit in that he or she may claim the paid alimony as a deduction which reduces their adjusted gross income. This deduction is found on Line 31a of the Form 1040 income tax return.
A common question which is usually asked is “how long do I need to pay alimony?” Under Utah law, alimony may not be awarded for a term longer than the duration of the marriage. The court has the discretion to award alimony for a shorter term. In the event the parties work out a settlement of their case through mediation or otherwise, this factor is often a point of negotiation. The court also has the discretion to extend the term of alimony in the event of extenuating circumstances. This may happen in cases where the spouse receiving alimony suffers or becomes inflicted with a disabling illness or disease.
Despite the term or duration of alimony ordered by the court, alimony automatically terminates upon the death or remarriage of the spouse receiving it. In addition, alimony may be terminated if the paying spouse can establish to the court’s satisfaction that the receiving spouse is cohabitating with another person.
As with other issues in divorce case, the courts retain what is called “continuing jurisdiction” over the case. This means the court can come back at any point after the divorce is granted and modify certain provisions of the Decree of Divorce, including the provisions relating to alimony. Generally, in order for a spouse to seek a modification of the alimony award, they must prove there has been a substantial material change in circumstances which were not foreseeable at the time of the divorce. The “foreseeability” of the changed circumstances has been the subject of much litigation. However, the court retains the authority to reduce or terminate alimony in cases where the recipient spouse experiences a significant increase in his or her income and standard of living which eliminates the need for alimony. Also, if the paying spouse suffers a significant downturn in his or her income due to job loss, illness or retirement, that spouse may petition the court to reduce or terminate his or her alimony obligation.
By hiring a seasoned law firm we can get for you the best alimony award that meets your needs as either the father or mother; there are things that you can do to make certain that award truly reflects what it should be.