Summary in Divorce
Alimony is financial support paid to one spouse by the other, usually a husband to a wife. It may be paid in one lump sum or in installments and can be temporary or permanent. Courts increasingly view it as transitional.
The payments are tax deductible to the payor and taxable to the payee. Alimony is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. In the United States, no two states award alimony in the same way. Many courts have accepted the idea of using equitable distribution of property to meet future financial needs, and many equitable distribution statutes name alimony as a factor in dividing property. Some states consider fault or misconduct by either spouse in determining alimony; some consider it a relevant factor, and some do not consider fault at all. While fault may still be a factor in determining alimony in some jurisdictions, courts today normally consider need, ability to pay, length of marriage, age and the health of the parties. Courts are mindful of the economic hardships a divorce may cause to a stay-at-home mother who must rejoin the work force. Divorcing spouses must clearly distinguish between payments that are part of a property settlement and those that are alimony. A distinction between the two is critical if for no other reason than tax consequences. Alimony payments are different from property settlements, which are generally without tax consequences to either spouse. Failure to properly label alimony can result in severe tax consequences to the payor. While the terms and conditions of a property division are negotiated first and set in stone, alimony is often modifiable, based on changing circumstances, such as changes in employment or retirement. Payments of property division are unaffected by remarriage, whereas alimony often terminates if the recipient, who is usually the woman, makes another trip to the altar. A former wife cohabiting with a new love may drive her former husband to distraction, particularly when he is paying her alimony, but payments in support of a property settlement are a distribution of what they had when they were husband and wife. Alimony continues only during the lives of the spouses; property settlements are inheritable and can be enforced by the decedentís estate.
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