Busting some Common Misconceptions about Spousal Support

By | April 25, 2017

The process of divorce is become more and more  commonplace in today’s society. According to the most recent data from the CDC, in the U.S. we currently have a total divorce rate of 3.2 per 1,000 population. And with each divorce case there are several hotly-contested elements to fight over, including asset division, child custody and support, prenuptials, as well as spousal support.

There are many misconceptions that people have when initially going through family law processes, and this is especially the case with Spousal Support. In any divorce, it’s important to do some homework and determine what is the best and most strategic ways to proceed in your case. This is especially the case knowing that you typically only have one shot in court to get your just desserts in a separation. So, we will discuss some of the most popular conceived notions or rumors about spousal support and dispel them in order to give you a good knowledge advantage. Each one will be broken down below:

Myth #1: Spousal Support and Alimony are Different Things.

This is a good place to start knowing that this is about the actual definition of spousal support. So what’s the difference? are they even different? The answer is No. They are both terms for the same thing… it just all depends on where you reside in the U.S., or what state you are filing for divorce. Some state courts call it Spousal Support, like in California, and then other states, like Massachusetts for example, refer to it as Alimony.

The Boston Alimony Attorney David Wilkinson offered the following explanation: “Spousal support is often referred to as Alimony, and these terms mean the same thing. In the context of divorce and separate support actions, Alimony means that one spouse pays money to the other spouse to assist that spouse with his or her expenses.”

Myth #2: Permanent Alimony Means Forever.

Even though the term does reference permanence, there is usually an expiration date on the alimony that is determined by the court. There are some guidelines that the court will use to decide how long the permanent alimony will last, and this is determined by the overall length of the marriage. For example, if you have been married for less than 10 years, then spousal support will last no longer than half the length of the marriage. And “marriage” in this case is defined as the time between the date of marriage and the date of separation.

So the real definition of Permanent Alimony is what people typically think Temporary Alimony is. In reality, the term “temporary alimony” refers to alimony that is granted to one party during the actual divorce proceedings. One party has to request this motion and has to be approved by the court in order to go into effect. The court determines this by looking at the pre-prepared income and expense declarations. The site Orangecountydivorce.com explains this further with the following: “Temporary spousal support (or alimony) is usually ordered to “Preserve the status quo”, meaning to try and maintain some semblance of what the parties had going during the marriage.”

Myth #3: Alimony is Based on Everything I Have.

Alimony is decided by utilizing the same factors used in the process of the division of assets. It’s important to note that alimony is not determined by looking at every single asset that the parties owns, but rather the reported income from the income and expense declarations mentioned above. The court can use a guidance calculator of sorts, factoring in elements like:

  • Income
  • Current standards of living
  • Employment opportunities and/or trainings required
  • Current liabilities and potential needs
  • Age and health of each spouse
  • Present or future needs of any children in the picture

Once the alimony has been set, it is possible for it to be modified. In order for this to happen, the person that owes the alimony must prove that there has been a significant financial change, like changing of employment. Also if the person that received the alimony decides to remarry or is cohabitating with someone else, these events might cause a termination of the alimony ruling. Finally, if a spouse dies during the set alimony time, that will discontinue the alimony, unless there is a life insurance policy in place that would ensure continued payments.

Myth #4: You Can Avoid Alimony if you Move Out of the Country.

This misconception is rooted from the many stories of people trying to get away with this. And although it might be feasible, it’s extremely immoral, and immensely difficult to pull off. Below are some of the many reasons this is a terrible idea.

First of all, there is an international convention in place with the United States and many countries that is specifically for spousal support and child support. This agreement extends the enforcement of the alimony or child support into those countries as well. The countries that are currently a part of this convention are Great Britain, the United States, Ireland, North Ireland, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Hungary, El Salvador, Norway, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Poland, Finland, Slovak Republic, and Portugal.

If the spouse already lives in another country during the divorce, but the divorce is taking place in the U.S., that person will still be required to pay American income tax on the alimony, unless this is specifically exempt by a country treaty.

Second, there are some severe American penalties for people that decide to move abroad while required to pay spousal support or child support. For example, if a person decides to move out of the country with alimony or other debts that total to greater than $5,000, the U.S. government is likely to revoke their US passport or ban that person from leaving the country at all.

If the person decides to move to a country that doesn’t currently have a convention or treaty in place, the other spouse might be able to get assistance from that country’s U.S. embassy. They are able to let you know if a particular person has registered with that embassy or consulate in that country. They are usually unable to provide any more information than that, but it can point you in the right direction regarding the person in question’s whereabouts.

In addition, the fact that you have bailed on your alimony responsibilities might affect the permitting of citizenship in another country. There are many requirements for this, and moral character does weigh heavily in the decision of granting citizenship.

Myth #5: You Can Avoid Alimony by Moving to Another State

What about moving to another state? Think again! The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), originally drafted in 1992 and amended as recently as 2008, was designed to ensure that orders of family support were honored across state borders. So if you are required to pay alimony in Massachusetts, those legal requirements will follow you in all 50 states.

There is another system in place that tracks partners that are supposed to be paying alimony. It’s called the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) and it’s purpose is to locate and track people that owe child or spousal support payments, and keep them accountable for the payments.

Concluding Thoughts

The overall concept of Spousal Support is set in place to smooth the transition of the affected parties, because financial impact can be heavy enough to keep people from moving forward with a divorce at all. Now that you know the facts behind some of the common misconceptions about Spousal Support, you can proceed in your case with this knowledge and aid in making the best decisions in your case. And knowing that the many facets of the divorce process can be challenging, it’s advisable to not proceed alone, but rather get an experienced family law attorney on your side that understands your situation and can fight for your rights and quality of life after the separation.

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