As a divorce attorney, alimony is something I get asked about often. Many times, one spouse has given up a career to stay home and raise the family’s children. Following a divorce, the stay-at-home spouse now finds his or herself concerned and frightened on how to maintain financial support for themselves. Alimony awards can be imperative in these situations.
What is alimony?
Alimony, otherwise known as spousal support, is financial compensation paid by one spouse to the other following a divorce or annulment. Alimony is different and completely separate from child support. The court will decide whether alimony support is awarded to you by starting with these three considerations:
- You lack sufficient income to reasonably provide for your needs outside of the marriage;
- Your spouse is financially able to support both of your needs without sacrificing his/her standard style of living;
- You are unable to financially support yourself through appropriate employment and/or are unable to seek employment outside the home (i.e. special responsibilities, care of children).
Alimony FYI: Although we are plenty used to hearing that alimony is awarded to the wife, alimony is not gender biased. Both men and women can be awarded alimony.
How much alimony am I entitled to?
New Hampshire law doesn’t employ a simple calculation to establish the amount and duration of spousal support. In determining the amount of alimony awarded to you, the court will take into consideration the following:
- Length of the marriage;
- Personal health and age of each party;
- Occupation, sources of income and amount of compensation;
- Economic and non-economic contributions to the family;
- Needs of each parties;
- Future opportunities for capital assets or income.
In special circumstances, the New Hampshire courts may recognize, and award accordingly, for “fault-based” factors that directly contributed to the reasons for the divorce (i.e. adultery, extreme cruelty, substance abuse). The court may conclude that the economic, emotional or physical harm caused by the offending spouse justifies a larger alimony settlement based on the inability for the other spouse to become independently self-supporting.
Factors that cannot be taken into consideration include a minor child’s social security benefit or, if you were to get married again, your subsequent spouse’s income or property (unless there are provisions in the order agreed to by both parties).
How long can I receive alimony?
Alimony’s primary purpose is to allow the recipient financial support over a period of time so that he/she can become self-supporting by securing an independent source of income. Again, there is no set standard duration of alimony support and each case is handled separately by the courts.
Although most cases result in the order for short-term alimony (anywhere from one to five years), permanent alimony is appropriate in cases such as physical or mental illness, caring for a dependent child or limited earning capacity. Cases for permanent alimony, however, are very rarely awarded in New Hampshire.
Can alimony payment amounts change over time or be terminated?
Either spouse, at any time, can ask to modify the alimony order when situational changes occur. For example, if one spouse’s income significantly increases or decreases making current alimony payments unfair to the other party. Conversely, voluntarily quitting one’s job or being underemployed will not satisfy the court as a reason to avoid or underpay alimony. The judge may decide to impute income and require the spouse to pay based on earning potential rather than current income.
Alimony FYI: New Hampshire law allows either party to seek alimony for up to five years post the final divorce decree.
I see many clients who obtain legal counsel for their divorce, but then never return for help when they are asked to renegotiate and modify the amount of alimony payments or terminate payments altogether. This is a dangerous move to make as you may be forfeiting your right to your awarded financial security. In the long run, it’s worth the cost of an hour or two of advice from professional legal counsel to ensure you’re not tossing away thousands of dollars of entitled compensation.
We are experienced and aggressive divorce lawyers in Portsmouth, NH and Dover, NH. We can help you avoid the alimony pitfalls in your New Hampshire divorce.