How Is Alimony Determined in Alabama?

After a court has made an initial decision to award…

The Amount of Alimony is Based on the Evidence

Alimony is support paid by one former spouse to the other. After a court has made an initial decision to award alimony in a case, the court’s next step is to determine how much it will award and the duration of that award. Unlike the calculation of child support pursuant to state-provided guidelines, no strict formula exists to calculate alimony in a case.  Instead, the court determines the amount of its alimony award after weighing disputed evidence presented during trial in light of certain factors.

In Determining How Much Alimony Should be Ordered, the Standard of Living of the Parties Must First be Examined

Evidence of the parties’ standard of living during their marriage and each party’s respective monthly costs and ability to maintain a same or similar standard of living following the divorce is the cornerstone of any alimony case.  If the court has decided to award alimony, one can conclude that it has already determined that 1.) the dependent spouse lacks the financial means to maintain the same or similar standard of living that he or she enjoyed during the marriage without some amount of contribution from the obligor spouse, and that 2.) the obligor spouse has some financial ability to contribute to the dependent spouse without suffering undue hardship.

The Financial Need of the Spouse Requesting Alimony Must Then be Determined

In setting the amount of alimony, the court generally considers three questions. First, the court considers how much financial support would be necessary to allow the dependent spouse to enjoy the standard of living the parties enjoyed during their marriage. A failure to demonstrate the marital standard of living is fatal to any request for alimony. Generally, the dependent spouse will offer evidence of both his or her income and his or her estimated monthly expenses to demonstrate that a financial shortfall exists. In consideration of that evidence, the court can then determine how much additional support the dependent spouse will require in order to meet his or her needs or to enjoy a similar standard of living as it existed during the parties’ marriage.

Whether the Other Spouse Has the Financial Ability to Contribute to that Need

The court’s analysis cannot end with simply determining how much the dependent spouse monetarily needs in order to maintain the financial status quo that existed during the marriage.  Importantly, by law the trial court must also consider the obligor’s own financial ability to contribute toward the recipient’s support without suffering undue economic hardship.  Because an alimony award cannot place the obligor spouse in a position of “undue economic hardship,” the court’s discretion is limited to setting an amount of alimony that the obligor can afford to pay.

How Principles of Equity and Fairness May Affect the Amount of Alimony Awarded

The next question for the court to consider when determining the amount of alimony to be paid turns on principals of equity and fairness. Sometimes a dependent spouse’s conduct and relative fault leading to the breakdown of the marriage will have a negative impact on the court’s alimony amount. Similarly, the issues of property division and alimony are interrelated and, therefore, a significant award of marital property to the dependent spouse can also affect the court’s alimony amount.

How Long Alimony Will Be Paid: Periodic versus Rehabilitative Alimony

Even after the court determines the amount of alimony to award, the court must determine how long alimony will be paid.  Periodic alimony is paid on a monthly basis until one of the parties dies, the dependent spouse dies, the dependent spouse cohabitates with another person, or the obligation is modified or terminated by a court order.  Rehabilitative alimony, on the other hand, is more limited in duration and will terminate after a determined period of time or the occurrence of one of the factors that terminates periodic alimony. Currently in Alabama, our legislature has enacted a statute that instructs the courts to award rehabilitative alimony, rather than periodic alimony, unless the court expressly finds that rehabilitative alimony is not feasible. Except in cases in which the parties were married for twenty years or longer or in cases with other limited and special circumstances, courts are not permitted to award alimony for a period exceeding the length of the parties’ marriage. 

Consultation with An Alabama Divorce and Family Law Attorney

Whether you are potentially a dependent spouse or potentially an obligor spouse, the issue of alimony can have long-lasting implications and is a critical issue in any divorce case meriting discussion.  If you desire to discuss the issue of alimony with someone at our firm, please feel free to contact us here to schedule a consultation with a lawyer of your preference at Boyd, Fernambucq & Dunn, P.C.

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