Spousal support made national headlines in the late 2010s. For about fifty years, obligees (people receiving support) had to report receipts as income, and obligors (people paying support) could deduct the payments. The 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act reversed these roles. This federal law made receipts nonreportable and payments nondeductible. The jury is still out on whether this change benefitted men or women.
The tax law changed significantly, yet despite some pressure for reform, Georgia’s alimony laws remain the same. Many reformers would like to change the spousal support laws in Georgia and similar states. These reformers prefer an objective determination that’s like a child support guideline determination. But the Peachtree State’s law is still quite subjective, as outlined below.
Because of the nature of this law, both obligors and obliges have substantial legal and financial rights in this area. Neither spouse must roll over and accept a certain outcome. A Marietta family law attorney serves as a strong voice for you throughout this process. This advocacy helps ensure that the final alimony award is fair to both spouses. In the end, that’s usually what everyone wants.
Qualifying for Spousal Support
Many divorcing spouses assume the judge automatically awards alimony. But that’s not the case. In fact, there is a strong undercurrent in Georgia family law that spousal support is unavailable unless an oblige qualifies for it, based on factors like:
- Standard of Living During the Marriage: Almost inevitably, divorce lowers the standard of living for both spouses. However, under Georgia law, a divorce cannot be an unfair financial burden on either spouse. In plain English, neither spouse should go from the penthouse to the poor house. So, this factor could affect alimony payments and/or alimony receipts.
- Spouses’ Future Earning Capacity: Alimony determinations are not just backward looking. They’re also forward looking. If one spouse is substantially older, less educated, or otherwise has a lower future earning capacity than the other spouse, the alimony determination must reflect that difference.
- Noneconomic Contributions to the Relationship: The so-called homemaker factor is usually decisive or nonexistent. If one spouse gave up career advancement opportunities to be a primary caregiver, most courts consider the noneconomic contributions substantial. In any other case, these contributions are most likely minimal.
- Fault in the Breakup of the Marriage: Georgia is one of the only states that allows judges to consider marital misconduct, like adultery, in this area. In fact, marital misconduct victims could be entitled to permanent alimony. Moreover, if a spouse clearly qualifies for spousal support based on the other factors, a judge could deny alimony based on marital misconduct.
Furthermore, judges usually rubber-stamp spousal settlement agreements regarding alimony payments, as long as both spouses had an independent Marietta family law attorney throughout the settlement negotiation process.
Types of Alimony
If a spouse qualifies for alimony, the purpose of payments usually determines the type of spousal support.
Typically, alimony is designed to help a spouse meet unexpected needs or become financially self-sufficient. In both cases, temporary (short-term) alimony is usually appropriate.
Unexpected needs usually include rental property deposits, attorneys’ fees, and other divorce-related expenses. The obligee’s case is stronger if s/he was blindsided by the divorce. If the spouses had been drifting apart for some time and/or the obligee filed the petition, the obligee’s case is much weaker. Usually, these temporary alimony payments end when the judge finalizes the divorce.
Some spouses have slightly more daunting financial needs. Frequently, obligees must finish their degrees to become marketable or accept low-paying positions to re-enter the workforce. These needs are especially significant if the obligee also has custody of a minor child who’s at least partially disabled. If that’s the case, and a Marietta family law attorney makes a proper motion, the judge usually extends payments for another few months.
Many of our readers gulped earlier when they read about permanent alimony. But in this context, permanent usually doesn’t mean forever. Instead, permanent basically means not temporary.
Sometimes, permanent alimony is an income redistribution tool. Judges often award permanent alimony if the obligee cannot ever have a standard of living anywhere close to the other spouse’s standard of living. Permanent alimony might also be appropriate if the obligee is disabled or has custody of a disabled child and therefore cannot work. In either case, judges often limit payment duration, or they are at least open to a subsequent motion to modify or terminate payments.
Amount and Duration of Payments
This section will be brief. Usually, judges use the same factors used to determine eligibility to determine the amount and duration of payments.
Additionally, under Georgia law, judges must set the minimum amount needed to either push the obligee toward self-sufficiency or redistribute income.
Changed financial circumstances, which were mentioned above, usually support alimony modification motions. Changed emotional circumstances could be relevant as well.
Most people change jobs frequently. These job changes usually increase or decrease income. Frequently, the change is substantial. If that’s the case, a spousal support increase or decrease, or a termination, might be in order. However, judges usually cannot subsequently order spousal support. If there’s no order in the final decree, it cannot be added later.
The income change must be permanent and made in good faith. A one-time income spike or decrease, especially if the person is self-employed, usually doesn’t support a successful modification motion. Furthermore, obligors cannot quit their jobs solely to reduce their spousal support obligations.
On a related note, the obligor’s retirement does not automatically terminate or modify payments. Instead, the obligor must make a motion to modify, which the obligee will almost certainly oppose.
Emotional change usually means the obligee’s remarriage. Generally, remarriage terminates alimony payments as a matter of law. An obligee’s marriage-like relationship could have a similar effect. Some factors to consider in this area include the length of the relationship, any evidence of a common law marriage (agreement to get married and holding each other out as married), and joint financial ventures, like a large joint purchase or a joint checking account.
Georgia’s alimony laws are quite complex. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Marietta, contact the Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.