Alimony: What Do I Need to Know Before Divorce?
Definition of Alimony
Georgia law defines alimony as "an allowance out of one party's estate, made for the support of the other party when living separate." To put it plainly, alimony can be awarded in divorce when one party requires economic assistance from the other. This does not mean that just because the party seeking alimony is in need of financial assistance the other party is automatically required to pay. They must also have the ability to support their ex-spouse financially. There are many divorce cases in which alimony is not appropriate, and there are several reasons why that might be the case.
How a Judge Decides Alimony
Think of alimony like a scale, the needs of the party seeking alimony on one side and the other party's ability to pay on the other. If the party seeking alimony's needs outweigh the other party's ability to pay, it is less likely they will receive alimony-or at least the amount of alimony they are seeking. On the other hand, if the party's ability to pay outweighs the seeking party's needs, they are more likely to have higher alimony payments. Ultimately, the judge will weigh a number of statutory factors in order to determine whether alimony is appropriate.
Another reason a party is not entitled to alimony is "when it is established by a preponderance of the evidence that the separation between the parties was caused by that parties adultery or desertion." A party who has committed adultery is completely barred from receiving alimony when that was the reason for divorce.
Types of Alimony
In Georgia, alimony can be temporary or permanent. Temporary alimony is alimony awarded prior to a final decree of divorce, meaning that one party can be responsible for alimony payments to the other before they are officially divorced. It is important to note that just because a party receives temporary alimony, there is no guarantee the Court will order permanent alimony once the divorce is final. Permanent alimony is simply alimony that is worked into the final decree of divorce.
Just as there is temporary and permanent alimony, there is also lump-sum and periodic alimony. Lump-sum alimony is when one party pays the other a lump sum of money from their separate funds. Periodic alimony is alimony which is paid over a period of time. For example, periodic alimony is commonly paid in monthly or bi-monthly installments. However, periodic alimony is more likely to be terminated than lump-sum alimony for various reasons, such as the recipient of the alimony remarrying.
Can Alimony Be Forever?
You might be thinking, "I was awarded permanent alimony, does that mean I will always receive it?" Or, on the other hand, "I was ordered to pay permanent alimony, am I always going to have to pay this?" No, permanent does not equal perpetual. In Georgia, courts will usually set a certain number of years for alimony to be paid, or parties often agree on a period where one party will receive alimony. But there are three specific circumstances in which alimony will terminate before the court ordered or agreed upon time.
As previously mentioned, when a recipient of alimony remarries, they can no longer receive alimony payments from their ex-spouse. Another instance when alimony is can be terminated early is cohabitation - when the recipient of alimony moves in with their romantic partner. This does not necessarily mean alimony will be terminated, but it will at least be modified. Lastly, the death of either spouse will terminate alimony.
Finally, how do courts enforce alimony? If your ex-spouse stops making alimony payments, you have the right to file a Motion for Contempt against them. The key to prevailing on such a motion is the intent of non-paying party. It must be shown and proven that your ex-spouse is willfully disobeying the Court's order for alimony payments. Being held in Contempt is very serious and can land a person in jail until they decide to comply and pay up.
In the event "willfulness" cannot be shown or you do not have the time or money to pursue a Contempt action, Georgia law allows for wage garnishment or income deduction orders to be put into place against the non-paying party. When a court puts a garnishment of wages into place, it essentially requires the employer of the party to withhold a certain amount of money from their pay and send it directly to the party collecting the alimony. It is important to note that only 50% of the paying party's net income can be garnished when fulfilling the alimony obligation.
Lastly, you can ensure collection of alimony payments through an income deduction order, which is similar to wage garnishments. The court will enter this order at the same time as it enters an order for alimony and the income deduction order will remain in place until the alimony obligation is terminated.
Written by: Sandra Elizabeth Kuhlmann