Understanding Alimony in Different Divorce Scenarios

For many people, divorce not only causes emotional stress but financial stress as well. Navigating finances during and after divorce can be frightening for a spouse who has relied on their partner’s income. Thankfully, a court can grant alimony payments to a divorcing spouse who needs financial support in some cases. In Minnesota, alimony is referred to as “spousal maintenance.”

No two divorce scenarios are the same; therefore, the terms of alimony also vary in each circumstance. Continue reading to learn more about alimony and how it often works in different divorce situations. 

What Is Alimony? 

Alimony, also known as spousal maintenance or spousal support, refers to court-ordered payments awarded to a former spouse in a divorce. Spousal support is a concept that came into practice many decades ago when one spouse worked full-time, and the other stayed home to maintain the house and/or care for the children. 

Alimony is intended to provide financial support to the former spouse who makes a lower income, or no income at all. Although not guaranteed, alimony is usually determined based on some or all of the following factors:

  • Length of marriage
  • Both spouses’ earning potential
  • Property of the spouse seeking alimony, including marital property
  • Supporting spouse’s ability to pay
  • Length of unemployment by spouse seeking alimony
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Spouses’ ability to support themselves
  • Educational or emotional support
  • Children with disabilities requiring full-time care

 Spousal maintenance in Minnesota can be awarded on a temporary,or permanent basis. 

  • Temporary alimony: Paid for a specific period of time 
  • Permanent alimony: Paid for an indefinite period of time.

Alimony is not granted in every divorce scenario; instead, it is ordered by the court for specific reasons. Various circumstances can either help or hinder a dependent spouse’s chances of receiving alimony. Let’s explore three different scenarios: short-term marriages, disability, and stay-at-home parenting. 

Receiving Alimony After a Short-Term Marriage

A short-term marriage typically lasts less than five years, however there is no set definition. Minnesota courts have found that marriages up to 11 years were considered “relatively shorter.” Short-term marriages are more common than people may think. In the U.S. the average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is about eight years, according to the U.S. Census.  

Divorce after a short-term marriage lowers the likelihood of alimony being awarded at all. The length of the marriage and, in the case of a homemaker, the length of absence from employment  may significantly impact whether or not alimony will be granted. 

In a short-term marriage where both spouses were employed full-time, spousal maintenance may not be awarded. However, in some cases,  the court may order temporary spousal maintenance to assist the lower-earning spouse during the divorce process or for a period of time after the divorce, especially if there is a large disparity between incomes. This temporary financial support can help the dependent spouse build healthy post-divorce financial habits.

Alimony For a Disabled Spouse

Instances of long-term alimony are rare, but not in cases of disability. Someone married to a person with a disability may play a significant role in helping them with their day-to-day tasks or financial needs. If a married couple decides to divorce and one of the spouses has a disability preventing them from working, alimony payments can be awarded. Care arrangements can often change and may necessitate extra financial support to maintain a comparable quality of life. Alimony is not guaranteed, however, and has been denied even where one spouse has a disability and is unable to work.  

A disabled ex-spouse may need to rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and alimony payments if they cannot work due to their disability. However, alimony can complicate SSI. If an individual receives SSI benefits, they may see a reduction in benefits if they also receive spousal support payments. If alimony payments increase the individual’s income over the SSI eligibility limit, the individual could lose SSI benefits altogether. However, SSDI is typically not affected by alimony.

Although rare, in some cases, the spouse who receives disability benefits may have to pay alimony. In this instance, SSDI benefits may be garnished to pay all or part of the alimony payment. 

Spousal Support For Stay-at-Home Parents

Children affect the divorce process, especially when it comes to finances. Child support might seem similar to alimony, but they are not the same. 

Spousal support is paid from one spouse to the other to support the dependent spouse financially. For divorces executed on or before December 31, 2018, alimony payments are deductible by the payer and taxable to the recipient. However, under divorce or separation instruments executed after December 31, 2018, alimony payments are neither deductible by the payer nor taxable to the recipient. 

On the other hand, child support is paid to benefit the children in a former partnership. Child support is not considered taxable income, and it helps cover children’s basic needs, such as:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Housing
  • Medical care

If one spouse in a divorcing couple is a stay-at-home parent, the court may  grant both alimony and child support. These chances increase in longer-term marriages in which  the dependent spouse has been a stay-at-home parent for a considerable amount of time. 

The length of alimony payments may hinge on the dependent spouse’s employability. Even though alimony may be awarded to a stay-at-home parent, terms may require the dependent spouse to seek employment eventually. 

If the dependent spouse has a college degree and spent some time in the workforce before deciding to stay home, they may receive short-term alimony. The court will consider the extent to which the dependent spouse’s education and skills have become outdated. If the receiving spouse does not have a degree and has always stayed at home, they may receive long-term spousal support. 

Every Circumstance of Spousal Support Is Unique

If one spouse was dependent on the other’s finances during a marriage, the court can award alimony, otherwise known as “spousal maintenance”. The best way for a spouse to increase their chances of receiving spousal maintenance is to work with a skilled divorce lawyer. 

This article contains general legal information and does not provide legal advice. For legal advice, please contact M. Sue Wilson Law Offices directly.