How Is Spousal Support Determined?

Often, when a couple separates or divorces, spousal support or spousal maintenance may be a part of the settlement. The old-fashioned term was alimony, but that has been, for the most part, replaced by more gender-neutral terms. Support can be paid to either the husband or the wife, depending on who has the stronger financial position in marriage. Regardless of the term used, it’s all basically the same thing, a payment from one spouse to the other to help equalize finances when the marital household is split into two.

In Idaho, if during or after a divorce a spouse is unable to support themselves or maintain a reasonable standard of living, they can ask for spousal maintenance. The court will look at all pertinent facts of the marriage, before and after its dissolution, to decide whether to award maintenance, what the amount will be, and the duration of the payments to be made. You will both need to provide detailed finances, assets and debts and the division of such, and budgets for future living needs.

If, during the divorce, you need financial assistance, the court may order temporary support. There is also a short-term support option if you need job training or education to become employable. This may last from a few months to a few years, depending on the circumstances. If you had a lengthy marriage, generally 10 years or more, you may be awarded permanent or long-term spousal support.

The judge will look at many factors when determining whether or not to award spousal support. Major considerations include age, physical and emotional state, and whether or not the spouse seeking support can earn their own way. The judge will also decide whether or not the spouse asked to pay is able to pay the support and still meet their own needs. It’s not a winner-takes-all approach. It’s more of a fair and equitable resolution so both parties can maintain a reasonable standard of living when they go separate ways.

Because there are so many factors to consider, there is no set formula for calculating support. It’s a determination by the court based upon each divorce petition and the unique financial situation of the couple at that time, with the future consequences playing a part in the final decisions, such as potential tax liabilities of support payments. (Federal tax law states that the paying spouse can claim spousal support payments as a tax deduction, while the spouse receiving such payments is required to claim that money as income if court ordered.) Judges may also consider fault in the final award and previous decisions made in that court’s jurisdiction. The court can order spousal maintenance for “such amounts and for such periods of time that the court deems just.” (Idaho Code, Section 32-705)

While there are many aspects that can influence the final award, if circumstances for either party changes after the final judgment for support is issued, they can file a “Petition to Modify” with the court to consider changes to the initial order. Such modification may change the amount of maintenance/support or end spousal support all together.

Preparation is important. In order for a judge to make just decisions concerning your divorce, he will need a clear picture of what your marriage looked like, and what you both will need as you move on with separate lives. Taking the time to prepare will make the difference in how fair and equitable that end will be. Professionals like attorneys, CPAs, or mediators can help you work with honest and realistic figures, make clear and concise decisions, and move forward in a positive way.