Let’s be real. How things are going to play out money-wise in a divorce is often the biggest concern and question – for both spouses. It’s either “how much am I entitled to get?” or “how much am I going to have to pay?” The short answer is…it depends. It depends on your state, on how long you were married, on how much each person earns, and more. There’s really no simple answer that applies to every divorce, but in order to get some of the important basics that you should know, T.H. and Jessica spoke to veteran family law attorney, Jennifer Armstrong, on the Divorce, etc… podcast.
So What is Spousal Support?
This is one of the most highly contested and contentious issues in any divorce. Spousal support is the sum of money funds that one spouse typically will pay to another spouse if warranted. These funds will cover a lot of things, and there are different levels of support, depending on each case.
So is spousal support any different from alimony? No. It is still alimony. The statute is still called alimony and maintenance, and spousal support is just another term used to refer to the same thing. But it is different from child support. “Typically in a divorce where you have children, there’s going to be two types of support that you’re going to be addressing,” Jennifer explains. “That’s typically going to be alimony, otherwise known as spousal support, and then child support.” Alimony is really referencing the support that’s going to be between the spouses, which is meant for the upkeep and maintenance of that individual spouse, whereas child support is meant to be for the benefit of the children of the relationship.
Do I Need to Disclose My Spending?
It’s a common question – do you have to indicate what you’re using your spousal support for? Nope. You’re pretty much allowed to use it on whatever you deem necessary, as long as it’s not illegal, of course. All the court cares about is that you came to an agreement together and that it was understood and freely entered into. “They don’t care how crazy the agreement is or how one-sided or anything the agreement necessarily is, if both parties are entering into it freely and voluntarily,” clarifies Jennifer. Though you can be as detailed as you want to in this agreement, most people aren’t, and most attorneys won’t let their clients agree to include all the details. Jennifer is frequently asked, especially regarding child support, if receipts are required to show what the money is spent on, but the answer is no.
One thing that is important to know is that spousal support can sometimes take the form of something other than just a monetary payment each month. Sometimes it’s making a mortgage payment for the ex-spouse or paying for other things in place of a bank deposit. Every case is unique. And when negotiating alimony, you will also need to negotiate the duration of alimony. How long are you going to get or agree to pay alimony? If you’ve been married for 20 years or less, you’re more likely to have open durational alimony, formerly referred to as permanent alimony. Permanent may sound like you will receive alimony until you die, but that is very rarely the case.
How Much Money am I Going to Get?
This will vary from state to state, but also from court to court. Jennifer always tells people when they’re going through divorce to limit the conversations they’re going to have with anyone about alimony/spousal support because people will tell you all different kinds of things. “The fact of the matter is, alimony is very, very fact-specific.” There is no formula for alimony. Child support is a different story, there’s a formula for that. But alimony is determined by various factors that are within the alimony statute. How long were you guys married? What was your marital standard of living? What new expenses will you have to deal with after a divorce? What are the ages of the parties involved? The health? All of these are major factors in determining what you get in spousal support.
When Should I File for Divorce?
Every one of Jennifer’s clients will tell you that divorce has been on their minds for a long time. This isn’t a decision people come to lightly. They’ve either been thinking about it for weeks, months or even several years. So one of the things you need to do to help yourself when you know you’re headed down this path is to start keeping tabs on what your status quo is. How much does your spouse make? How much do you make? Because when someone starts planning for divorce, that overtime is going to suddenly dry up.
Jennifer always tells her clients, “you want to get divorced when everyone is making as much money as possible.” When money is coming in, that’s when you want to get divorced. You don’t want to get divorced when your spouse is unemployed or doing nothing at the time, because then you’re the breadwinner. But with that being said, what causes divorce? Lack of money and lack of communication. “When the money is flowing and the money is good, people are less likely to file for divorce, because they’re not arguing as much about money because they have it.” You have to pay attention and be on the lookout because you could find yourself in a situation where you’re accustomed to one lifestyle throughout your marriage, and then things change dramatically. Then when you do file for divorce, the court’s not going to go back and look at all those years when things were good. They take you as they find you.
How Am I Going to Get My Money?
The two most popular ways that spousal support is paid are by direct payment or through probation. Direct payments are when your spouse either gives you a check regularly (for example, every week or month), or they directly deposit money into your account themselves from their bank account. Now, this really works when you trust your spouse to make those payments, and when you know you’re capable of being a bit of a bookkeeper so you can keep track of the payments coming in. No one else is going to oversee that for you. However, if you’re dealing with a spouse whom you don’t trust, or who isn’t happy about having to make these payments for you, you may not want to go this route. Because if they stop making these payments to you, you’re going to have to chase them down and go through big litigation down the road. And in case you’re wondering, never go the cash route because then you’ll have no record of anything being paid. You have to be able to trace it. The first thing a judge will ask you is if you have evidence of the payments, and they’re not going to listen to cash.
Payment through probation is often the easiest and safest way to receive spousal support, particularly if you don’t trust your ex and/or have an acrimonious relationship with them. When using this method of payment, the probation department is going to be monitoring the payments you receive. You can even get an app on your phone to track said payments. And if you’ve signed up for certain services, the probation department can even help you try to go after the money if the payments do stop on your ex-spouse’s end.
The Ins and Outs of the Probation Department
So who pays the probation department for this service? Nobody. However, Jennifer says there is an annual fee. If you go through them, you’ll be paying a one-time $6 fee to the department to enroll in the Title IV-D services, where they will do credit monitoring. If it’s just alimony that they’re monitoring, there is a fee of about $25 that you’ll be paying. But it’s a pretty minimal fee, and can definitely be worth it for the peace of mind you’ll be getting. Think about it, if you don’t even get along or communicate with your ex, it’s best to let someone else handle money going back and forth. But even if you do trust your ex, it’s still much easier to go through someone else so you don’t have to be your own bookkeeper, and so payments through the probation department could be the way you want to go.
Do I Need Both an Attorney and a Mediator?
Many couples work out the financial details through mediation, and Jennifer is often asked if her clients need both a mediator and an attorney. If you’re looking into getting both an attorney and a mediator, you’re going to have to approach them as two separate hires. You can’t have one person be both your mediator and attorney for a party because you can’t represent two parties in a divorce. And you don’t necessarily need an attorney to go over everything you’ve already discussed and agreed to during mediation, though you can if you’re more comfortable doing so. This is called a memorandum of understanding, which is the document that mediators will draft for you. Both spouses are given this memorandum and are free to have it looked over by attorneys for a second opinion. But in Jennifer’s experience, most spouses who have gone through mediation don’t choose to also get an attorney. Usually only one will go, often the wife, just to have an attorney put that paperwork through.
Getting it Done
The best way to be prepared for whatever your outcome will be, with regards to spousal support, is to understand how it works where you live and to be armed with all the information you need so you can get the best outcome for you. It’s never too soon to make sure you thoroughly understand your financial situation, and the sooner you do, the better off you’ll be in the long run.