Calculating Alimony in Alabama
In the ideal divorce, the parties will jointly and amicably agree to things like child custody, child support, property division, and alimony payments. Unfortunately, divorces are often difficult and involve charged emotions, and parties often strongly disagree on many elements. Alimony, in particular, can be a difficult pill to swallow for the paying party. When the parties disagree, it is up to a family court to decide what rights and responsibilities each party will have following the divorce. A zealous Huntsville divorce attorney can help ensure that you either receive the alimony award to which you are entitled or that you do not get stuck overpaying alimony that is unmerited or unjust given your circumstances. Below we explore some of the factors an Alabama court will consider in determining an award of alimony.
Factors Affecting Alimony in Alabama
Alimony, also called spousal maintenance, spousal support, or spousal allowance, is meant to provide support to the party who would be at a larger economic disadvantage following the divorce. Alimony is not automatically awarded as part of every divorce in Alabama. As we previously discussed, Alabama changed its laws in 2018 to emphasize “rehabilitative alimony” meant to give the lower-earning party assistance for enough time to allow them to find income sufficient to support themselves. The 2018 law limited the duration of alimony to five years or less absent certain exceptions.
Assuming the parties do not agree to an amount of alimony, a court will consider a variety of factors in determining whether an award of alimony is appropriate and if so, the amount of the award. The factors a court may consider include:
- The separate assets owned by each spouse and any assets distributed as part of the divorce. An Alabama court will consider alimony only after equitable property division has been decided. The court will then determine whether an alimony award is necessary or whether instead, the division of assets will provide sufficient means of support for the lower-earning party without the need for alimony.
- Length of the marriage. There is no minimum amount of time a couple must have been married in order to permit an award of alimony. However, the longer a couple has been married, the more likely a court will issue an alimony award. The duration of the marriage also affects how long alimony will be awarded: Under Alabama’s 2018 law, alimony cannot be awarded for longer than the duration of the marriage itself (e.g., a 12-year marriage means a maximum 12 years of alimony), unless the parties were married for more than 20 years, in which case unlimited alimony may be permitted in “extraordinary circumstances.”
- The conduct of the spouses and whether it led to the divorce. Alabama is one of only a few states that still divides divorces between “fault” and “no-fault.” In a fault divorce, the court will consider which party’s conduct “caused” the divorce. For example, if adultery was involved, and that adultery actually led to the divorce (as opposed to occurring after the relationship had already deteriorated), then the court may consider adultery as a factor in determining a fair and just alimony award. Adultery may lead to a larger award if the payer is the culprit, or the judge may reduce the award if the alimony recipient was at fault.
- Future earning potential for each spouse.
- The standard of living for each parent during the marriage.
- The spouses’ respective ages and health.
- The needs of any dependent children.
- A spouse’s services as a homemaker or parent.
- Any other factor the judge deems relevant.
These factors are not an exhaustive list. The court may consider any factor relevant to an appropriate award of alimony.