Understanding alimony during the divorce process

On Behalf of | Feb 3, 2020 | Alimony

When there is a disparity in income and expenses between the litigants in a divorce case, the court may order temporary alimony payments while the divorce remains pending. The purpose of Alimony Pendente Lite is to provide financial support to a dependent litigant during the divorce process. This is not a final determination of ongoing post-divorce alimony for the purposes of rehabilitation or long-term support. Moreover, there is no absolute right to receive an alimony award.

Courts are given wide discretion in determining whether alimony is appropriate in a particular situation. For temporary support, the court will weigh the same factors that are used to evaluate alimony awards in the final decree, with one exception. During the pendency of divorce, courts do not consider the reason for separation between the litigants. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-83(a). Factors include:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The respective ages of the divorcing spouses
  • The health, station and occupations of the litigants
  • The amount and sources of income of the parties
  • Potential earning capacities of the litigants
  • The vocational skills, education and employability of the divorcing spouses
  • The marital estate and the needs of the parties

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-82. One goal in weighing the factors is to determine the needs of the recipient’s financial needs, as well as the payor’s ability to meet the needs.

While support obligations during the pendency of divorce are intended to maintain the status quo and allow a dependent litigant to maintain his or her lifestyle, determining needs of the recipient and the obligor’s ability to pay in complex estates is complicated.

Complex Marital Estates Can Complicate Alimony Calculations

In Dumbauld v.Dumbauld, the trial court reviewed the husband’s income and entire estate under the statutory criteria. Dumbauld v.Dumbauld, 163 Conn.App. 517 (2016). The parties provided the court with detailed financial records that the court found credible for determining needs and the ability to pay.

The court, however, included a review of the household expenses of the parties leading up to the separation. Prior to the divorce, the husband had been withdrawing funds monthly from a business bank account to cover shortfalls that arose between his monthly income and meeting household expenses. The court relied on the husband’s past practice of using liquid assets to supplement his income in awarding alimony pendente lite. The husband appealed the trial court’s alimony pendente lite award to the Appellate Court of Connecticut.

On appeal, the appellate court found that the trial court erred in calculating the husband’s ability to pay under the circumstances of the case. The trial court had credible evidence to determine income and needs under conventional methods. Specifically, the trial judge did not base the alimony award based on an analysis of imputed income or the determination of earning capacity due to incomplete financial disclosure or evidence that was not credible. The court looked to past practice in covering expenses, which included the use of marital assets.

Connecticut courts have no inherent authority to transfers assets from one spouse to another. That power rests solely on the enabling statute, which provides the court with the power to allocate all, or any part of the estate from one spouse to other when entering the final divorce decree to dissolve the marriage—not during the divorce proceeding.

Notably, the appellate panel recognizes that not every case has complete and credible evidence before the judge to allow for a conventional determination of the needs of the recipient of a potential alimony award and the potential obligor’s ability to pay. The alimony pendente lite statute does allow the court to weigh the estate of each of the parties. For this reason, a detailed and strategic plan in preparing the financial documentation and evidentiary testimony is important in seeking fair results. This is especially true in relation to alimony pendente lite. During the pendency of the divorce litigation the court does not have authority to divide marital assets.

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