Unlike child support there is no clear cut calculation that the courts use to determine the amount of spousal support. There is a formula, but there are so many subjective parts that alimony causes more drawn out and expensive court battles than perhaps any other issue. If the couple owns a business this can make it even more complicated. In Utah there are four criteria that the courts use to determine alimony. In most cases all of these criteria must be met to some extent. Please refer to the actual state statutes on alimony for further clarification
1. The duration of the marriage: A short term marriage will usually not qualify for an alimony award from the courts. The couple may agree in mediation to an alimony arrangement regardless of the duration of the marriage. The court standard is to award the length of alimony to match the duration of the marriage. If a couple were married 12 years then the alimony may be 12 years as well.
2. The need of the recipient spouse: This is determined by looking at two criteria: First the monthly budget of the recipient spouse. This would include any monthly expenses needed to live including costs for any children living with that spouse. The second criteria is the ability to earn income. If the recipient spouse is currently employed then that may be used to calculate this amount. If the recipient spouse is only working part-time then they may need to calculate the earning ability based on full time employment. If the recipient spouse is not employed then the recipient spouse may need to impute an income ability based on past work experience, education, and skills. The mediators can assist in this calculation. If the recipient spouse is receiving any child support that may also be factored in. Please note the following example with the recipient spouse having primary physical custody of the children:
3. The ability of the paying spouse: This is determined by using the same technique used for establishing need by the recipient spouse. The paying spouse estimates a budget including an expense for any child support paid. If the paying spouse is currently unemployed then an amount may be imputed based on the ability to earn estimate. Consider the following example with the paying spouse not having physical custody of the children:
4. To establish an equal style of living at the time of the divorce: Once need and ability is established then the parties must attempt to create a situation where the financial lifestyles of the parties are similar at the time of divorce and modify the alimony amount accordingly. The mediators can assist the couple in making these adjustments and determining an amount.
Lump Sum Alimony: This concept is based on a mutual agreement that the couple makes where the paying spouse agrees to pay a lump amount of spousal support instead of monthly payment. The courts will not likely impose a lump settlement on a couple, however, many couples choose this alternative in the course of mediation and in that context the courts will endorse a lump sum settlement. Please see the article Alimony to be or not to be. There are advantages and disadvantages to this concept. Usually the lump sum amount is considerably less than the total payout of a monthly support amount.
Example: If the monthly support calculation equals $1,000.00 for a period of 10 years then the total paid would be $120,000 (assuming the spouse receiving support does not remarry). A couple might choose to have a lump settlement of $60,000 or half of the total monthly amount. The advantage to the paying spouse is the obvious savings. The receiving spouse no long has to worry about the monthly payment not being made (a bird in the hand is better than 2 in the bush).
The disadvantage for the paying spouse is that if the receiving spouse remarries before 5 years have passed, then the paying spouse would have paid less if they had just paid monthly. As you can see, there is a certain amount of risk to either choice.
It should be noted that a monthly payment agreement might put a strain on the parenting plan. If the payments are accompanied with animosity each time the payment is made or if there are problems with the payments being made on time then it opens the door for continued conflict, which may be bad for the children. The couple should weigh the desire for monthly payments against the potential problems that can come from having to communicate monthly about this financial need.
Divorce Mediation Institute of Utah
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