What is Alimony?
When two people are married, they have an obligation to support each other. This does not necessarily end with divorce. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the right of maintenance extends to any person economically dependent on the marriage. This will include, therefore, spouse, dependent children and even indigent parents.
The claim of either spouse (though, in the vast majority of cases, it is the wife), however, depends on the husband having sufficient means. When deciding how much alimony is to be paid, the courts will take into account the earning potential of the husband, his ability to regenerate his fortune (in case, say, the property is given to the wife) and his liabilities.
In case either spouse is unable to pay for the divorce, these expenses would also be paid by the spouse that does have an income.
Factors that influences the duration and amount of alimony
In a contested divorce, the alimony, its amount and tenure, depend upon the length of marriage. A divorce after a decade of marriage entitles the spouse to a life-long alimony. The other essential factors that need to be considered are:
1. Age of the spouse (or the person who is entitled to receive the alimony)
2. Economic condition or the earnings of the person who is to provide the alimony
3. The health of both spouse (the failing health or a medical condition of one of the spouses who is going to receive the alimony may act in favour of him or her. They can claim a larger alimony on the basis of their failing health).
4. The spouse that retains custody of the child would be entitled to either pay lesser alimony or be entitled to a greater amount while the child is a minor.
Types of Alimony / Spousal Support
Before an ex-spouse can even be eligible for alimony there has to be a valid marriage. If the marriage ended in annulment or was considered void, generally, there is no legal basis for awarding alimony unless state statutes provide otherwise.
Alimony awards can come in a variety of forms:
• Temporary Alimony
• Rehabilitative Alimony
• Permanent Alimony
Additionally, more than one category of award can be awarded in the same divorce action.
Temporary alimony is often awarded during the period the divorce proceeding is pending. This type of award becomes necessary due to the length of time. It could take before the final decree is issued and a permanent alimony award is made.
Generally, rehabilitative alimony is used to support the spouse during a period of retraining or re-education for re-entry into the workforce, thereby enabling the spouse to become self-supporting in not too distant future. Since it provides a temporary fix to help the party regain marketable skills, it can be classified as another form of temporary alimony.
The courts are more compelled to award this type of alimony where the spouse seeking it, has some potential for establishing a viable career.
Permanent alimony becomes effective upon the final dissolution of the marriage. Additionally, it can come in various forms:
• Periodic payments (often monthly)
• Lump sum payments
• Annuity payments
• Trust payments
• In-kind payments (e.g., making direct payment for services)
Despite the seemingly permanent nature of this type of award, it usually does not last forever (i.e., until the recipient’s death). In most jurisdictions there is no prescribed period for alimony payments. For instance, the California statute which deals with the duration of alimony states:
Despite the nomenclature, courts consider various factors before making the decision as to which party, if any, should be entitled to alimony.
FACTORS IN ALIMONY/SPOUSAL SUPPORT
Alimony awards are generally based upon the needs and abilities of each party, using factors such as:
• Age of the parties;
• Health and physical condition of the parties;
• The earning capacity of the parties(e.g., taking into account the supported spouse’s marketable skills vis-à-vis the current job market for those skills);
• Present income of the parties;
• The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party;
• The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living;
• The duration of the marriage;
• The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage; and
• The jurisdiction of the marriage (in some jurisdictions).
When divorce statutes were fault-based, there were two additional factors courts considered: (1) degree of fault and (2) maintenance of status.
ENFORCEMENT OF ALIMONY AWARDS
An alimony award is essentially a court order, thereby making payment mandatory—based on the dictates of the order. If the payor fails to fulfill those obligations, he or she will be in contempt of court. As such, the court can take the necessary steps to compel the payor to comply with the order. Specifically, courts can choose either to pursue a civil or criminal proceeding against the scofflaw.
A civil proceeding has an underlying purpose of getting the delinquent payor to make the required payments rather than punishing the delinquent payor. Conversely, a criminal proceeding is used to punish the offender, which usually results in the imposition of some jail time. Remedies for nonpayment can include:
• Imprisonment for a prescribed period of time (despite the threat of imprisonment, many jurisdictions are unwilling to throw their debtors in jail)
• Judgment against the non-complying party (also enforceable in other states under the doctrine of full faith and credit)
• Seizure of property such as tax refunds
• Liens on real property
• Wage garnishments
If the reason behind nonpayment is due to an inability to pay, that argument can be advanced in a petition for modification of the award.