Spousal maintenance is one of the hardest parts of divorce. There are a lot of factors to determine how much or if any spousal maintenance will be paid. These decisions can be made by either the court or the couple outside of court. Decisions regarding spousal maintenance are made on a case-by-case basis because it is not mandated in most states, unlike child support.
When you begin divorce proceedings, there are so many questions to be asked. Let us help you answer your questions about spousal maintenance before you walk into the court proceedings.
What is Spousal Maintenance?
Spousal maintenance is another term for “alimony.” With that in mind, spousal maintenance is money paid to someone by that person’s former spouse. Spousal maintenance allows the individuals involved to maintain the lifestyle they each became accustomed to during their marriage. Matters of spousal maintenance will be decided by a court during your legal separation, divorce proceedings, or while action is pending on the case.
Spousal maintenance has historically been awarded to more women than men because women were often the spouse to stay at home to support a growing family. By putting her career on hold, her skills become less relevant to the workforce. This meant that in the case of divorce, a wife would need more help to maintain her lifestyle, and the husband would make alimony payments.
Today, it is less of a guarantee that spousal maintenance will be awarded. As households move toward double income, instead of single income, it is more likely that both individuals will be able to continue supporting themselves in the event of a divorce. When both women and men work, there is less of a chance that divorce will unfairly burden either individual.
How to Work Out Spousal Maintenance
Each individual court proceeding regarding spousal maintenance is up to the court’s discretion. There are a few factors that are considered in each case. The most pressing factors considered include the spouses’ ages, physical conditions, and emotional and financial states.
The court will also consider how long the spouse receiving financial support would need to become self-sufficient, though how you define self-sufficient may vary. One basis for determining self-sufficiency depends upon the couple’s standard of living. The burden of spousal support should not overly burden the payer, but the divorce itself should not excessively burden the spouse with fewer resources either.
If you and your spouse are able to come to an agreement on spousal maintenance without the court’s help, that will help speed up your court proceedings. Talk with your soon-to-be ex-partner and see if you can find an amount that satisfies you both before the court mandates a different amount. A court will take your agreements into account when determining its judgment.
Is Spousal Maintenance Tax Deductible?
Generally, spousal maintenance is tax deductible for the payer. For the recipient, spousal maintenance is taxable income, and you must report all spousal maintenance to the IRS in your taxes. However, if you and your ex are able to agree, you may be able to decide that spousal maintenance will not be considered in taxes.
Follow these steps if you have to report this income as the recipient of spousal maintenance. If these payments are your main source of income, you can make periodic payments to the IRS. Quarterly payments will mean you don’t owe any more at the end of the year. If it is additional income, you may ask your employer to deduct more taxes from your checks for the same outcome.
The payer of alimony payments will want to talk with your lawyers. You need to be sure the IRS will not view spousal maintenance payments as child support or a substitute for other separation fees. The IRS will contact you if they believe that is the case. You can avoid this with simple guidance from your attorney.
If you do decide to not report this income or payment on your taxes, this decision must be mutually agreed upon and mutually beneficial to each party.
When Does Spousal Maintenance Stop?
Paying spousal maintenance to an ex may leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. You are probably wondering how long you will have to pay that person before you can officially be done with the arrangement.
Unfortunately, this question – like many others in spousal maintenance decisions – is not very predictable. Spousal maintenance stops when the court decides it should stop, just like the court decides the amount to be paid.
There are some standard options, however. One of the more ambiguous options lays in the judge’s decision. A judge can set an arbitrary date years in the future, sometimes based on when the judge believes the recipient may reach self-sufficiency.
Many other options are tied to significant life events though. For example, if the recipient of spousal maintenance remarries, the payer will no longer be required to pay them alimony. The beginning of a new union lessens the burden of separation in the eyes of the court. Other life events that can affect spousal maintenance include retirement, or any other major change in the payer’s income. Death of either the recipient or the payer results in the immediate and abrupt halt of spousal maintenance payments.
Additionally, if you and your ex had children, the payments may be linked to your children. If this is the case, the support payments will end when they no longer require a full-time parent. A judge will decide if spousal support payments end at that point.
You do have the right to request the courts revisit previous decisions if you feel that payments require a change. There are many factors to consider in these situations. Ultimately, the length of spousal maintenance payments is decided on a case-by-case basis, just like the decision to award alimony.
Spousal Maintenance Issues
There is a large variety of information available about spousal maintenance. If you are unable to find the answers you are looking for, ask a lawyer who will be able to give you more legally binding advice. Always be sure that you and your ex-partner agree on spousal maintenance in order to ease the struggle of separation.