Alimony, also called spousal maintenance, is a form of support one divorcing spouse pays to the other. Spouses can agree on whether one will pay alimony, how much and for how long, or they may instead choose to litigate this issue so a judge will make the final decision. In either case, it is important to understand the types of alimony available in Arkansas and factors that influence it.
Permanent alimony is one possible type of arrangement in which one spouse pays the other support for the rest of his or her life. Introduced in earlier years for the benefit of women, many of who had little to no earning capacity, this form of maintenance is on its way out. Most divorcing spouses today, both male and female, are able to raise their earning potential to an acceptable level on their own. Judges tend to limit permanent alimony to cases where a spouse is extremely ill, disabled or old and cannot reasonably expect to earn a living.
Temporary or rehabilitative alimony
Today, temporary or rehabilitative alimony is more commonly awarded and only for a shorter period to help a spouse while he or she improves earning potential. The amount and length of the award depend on individual circumstances. In some families, one spouse may choose to stay home or give up on career advancement to enable the other spouse’s career growth. This spouse may need alimony payments for support while getting training, education or low-paying job experience. This type of financial support will end once this spouse earns a sustainable living.
Factors that affect awards
Judges have wide discretion in alimony decisions. Typically, they consider a variety of factors, including the couples’ current living standard, the spouses’ respective incomes and earning potential, the length of the marriage, any situations where one spouse gave up employment prospects for the benefit of the family, health and any other relevant issues. While Arkansas law offers a general guideline of 20 percent of the supporting spouse’s net income, judges have no obligation to adhere to that and can award as much or as little as they deem appropriate. Alimony has no relation to child support, which is mandatory and has strict formulas for calculation.
Changing an award
Circumstances can change drastically and unpredictably after divorce, so spouses may eventually wish to seek a modification or termination of an alimony order or agreement. In most cases, unless there is an agreement to the contrary, alimony will cease automatically if the supported spouse marries someone else.
Alimony is among the many important issues divorcing couples have to consider. Consulting a knowledgeable family law attorney can help define priorities and plan for a financially secure future.