In reviewing our series concerning the four parts of Georgia divorce it becomes obvious that there are several financial aspects of divorce. As a result, many going through the divorce process may find it hard to distinguish alimony, child support and equitable division. Although all three may involve monthly or lump sum payments made by one spouse to the other, child support, alimony and equitable division all serve different purposes, and the rules regarding how each may be satisfied are regulated by different sections of Georgia law. Unlike child support, which is intended to provide for the maintenance and support of minor children, or equitable division of marital property, which is designed to ensure that each spouse receives a fair and equitable portion of marital property upon divorce, the purpose of alimony is to provide support to the spouse or ex-spouse who is in need of economic support during separation or post-divorce.
According to Georgia law, alimony is defined as an allowance made out of one spouse's or ex-spouse's separate estate for the support and maintenance of the other ex-spouse. O.C.G.A. 19-6-1. Although alimony is designed to provide support to the spouse or ex-spouse who is in need of economic support, an award of alimony will not be solely based on the needs of one spouse. The ability of the other spouse to pay alimony will be considered as well. Id.
Unlike child support, which generally must be awarded in every case involving minor children in need of support, the court presiding over a divorce matter is not required to make an award of alimony in every case. In determining whether an award of alimony is warranted in a particular case, the presiding court will consider, among others, the following factors:
1) The cause of the parties' separation. If one party proves that the separation between the spouses was a result of the other parties adultery or desertion, the culpable party will be barred from receiving alimony.
2) The success of the divorce action. If the claim of alimony in incidental to a divorce action and the divorce is denied, the claim for alimony dissipates with the divorce action.
3) The voluntary provision of support by one spouse to the other. If one spouse has already voluntarily agreed to support the other spouse consistent with that spouse's needs, the recipient spouse will be barred from recovering additional support in the form of alimony unless the agreement between the spouses is invalid or the other spouse refuses to comply with the terms of the agreement.
4) The grounds for divorce. If the divorce is granted on the ground of fraud, duress or any other grounds which attacks the validity of the marriage contract itself, alimony will not be awarded.
O.C.G.A. § 19-6-1; O.C.G.A. § 19-6-8; Clements v. Clements, 255 Ga. 714 (1986); Owens v. Owens, 247 Ga. 139 (1981); Davis v. Davis, 206 Ga. 559 (1950); Ridgeway v. Ridgeway, 224 Ga. 310 (1968); Walker v. Walker, 53 Ga.App. 769 (1936); York v. York, 202 Ga. 50 (1947).
If the presiding court determines alimony is warranted, the court must then determine the amount and duration of alimony. With regard to duration, Georgia courts may award both temporary and permanent alimony. Temporary alimony may be awarded to a needy spouse during the course of divorce proceedings to provide for that parties support during the couple's separation. Once the divorce is final, the court may also award that spouse permanent alimony. The term permanent alimony is misleading, because Georgia courts very rarely order alimony to continue for the lifetime of the recipient spouse, although they may. O.C.G.A. § 19-6-4; 19-6-9. Most often, Georgia courts order alimony to continue for more limited time periods, generally between 2 to 10 years.
In this event, the court will likely order alimony to be paid in monthly or bimonthly payments. Alternatively, depending on the financial resources and needs of the parties, the court may also order alimony to be paid out in a lump sum once the divorce is final. Johnson v. Johnson, 220 Ga. 461 (1964). With regard to amount, there is no formula or specific calculation used to determine how much alimony a spouse should receive. Instead, courts rely on Georgia's alimony factors, which are listed below, to determine the amount of the alimony award.
1) The standard of living established during the marriage;
2) The duration of the marriage;
3) The age and the physical and emotional condition of both parties;
4) The financial resources of each party;
5) Where applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable him to find appropriate employment;
6) The contribution of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party;
7) The condition of the parties, including the separate estate, earning capacity, and fixed liabilities of the parties; and
8) Such other relevant factors as the court deems equitable and proper.
O.C.G.A. § 19-6-5.