Establishing Fair Alimony Payments
The purpose of alimony, which is also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, is typically to enable a spouse who is disadvantaged through divorce to enjoy a standard of living commensurate with the standard of living during marriage. If a party does not request alimony prior to the entry of a decree dissolving the marriage that party waives his/her right to alimony and cannot come back and request it at a later time.
At PARRINO|SHATTUCK PC, in Westport, our family law attorneys seek to ensure that alimony payments are fair and appropriate based on the circumstances.
How Spousal Support Is Determined
Connecticut’s alimony statutes do not recognize any absolute right to alimony. Unlike child support, there is no precise formula or guideline. In determining whether alimony should be awarded to either spouse, and the duration and amount of the award, the court considers the following:
- Length of the marriage;
- Amount and sources of income;
- Earning capacity;
- Vocational skills;
- Needs of each of the parties; and
- Desirability and feasibility of the primary parent of minor children forgoing employment to be available to those children.
The court has discretion to weigh these criteria based on the circumstances of each case. It need not give each factor equal weight. The court also need not recite each factor in its decision, it is sufficient that the memorandum of decision at least reflects a proper consideration and weighing of the factors set forth in the statute.
While there is “no fixed standard” for the determination of an individual’s earning capacity; it is well-settled that earning capacity is not an amount which a person can theoretically earn, nor is it confined to actual income, but rather it is an amount which a person can realistically be expected to earn considering such things as his/her vocational skills, employability, age and health. Parties are entitled to pursue any employment they choose so long as they do not fraudulently restrict their earning capacity for the purpose of avoiding support obligations. Testimony from a vocational expert is typically required to support an earning capacity claim.
Additionally, the court has discretion to order a time-limited alimony award. Time-limited awards are often awarded to provide interim support while one party acquires new skills and education to facilitate financial self-sufficiency. Such awards are not limited to that purpose and are also appropriately awarded to provide interim support until a future event occurs that makes such support less necessary or unnecessary. Rehabilitative alimony may be defined as alimony payable for a short, but specific and terminable period of time, which will cease when recipient is, in the exercise of reasonable efforts, in a position of self-support. Although a specific finding for an award of time-limited alimony is not required, the record must indicate the basis for the trial court’s award. There must be sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding that the spouse should receive time-limited alimony for the particular duration established. If the time period for the periodic alimony is logically inconsistent with the facts found or the evidence, it cannot stand.
Nominal alimony awards, such as an award in the amount of $1 per year, afford the court with continuing jurisdiction to make appropriate modifications in the future. See Modifications of Alimony Payments and Cohabitation.
The ordering of security for alimony by a trial court is discretionary. The court’s discretion, however, is not without limits. This court has held that the trial court must delve into certain matters before ordering a party to obtain life insurance to secure the payment of alimony. Specifically, the court must engage in a search and inquiry into the cost and availability of such insurance.
An order entered by the court must be obeyed by the parties until it is reversed, modified or extinguished. If there is an ambiguous term in an order, a party must seek a clarification upon motion rather than resort to self-help. A good faith belief that party was justified in suspending alimony payment does not preclude the court from finding a party in contempt. However, to constitute contempt of a court order, a party’s conduct must be willful. A good faith dispute on legitimate misunderstanding of the terms of an alimony or support obligation may prevent a finding that the payer’s nonpayment was willful. Noncompliance alone will not support a judgment of contempt.
Tax Issues And Spousal Maintenance
A tax revision enacted late in 2017 substantively changed the federal income tax system, repealing the deduction for alimony payments by the payor and corresponding inclusion as income by the recipient. This revision is applicable to divorce or separation agreements entered into after Dec. 31, 2018, or divorce or separation agreements modified after Dec. 31, 2018, if they specifically reference this provision.
Contact Us For Skilled Spousal Support Guidance
At PARRINO|SHATTUCK PC, our lawyers understand that divorce is often emotional, and issues like alimony can be complex. We are here to guide you to ask the right questions, identify goals, and work on your behalf to achieve those goals.