By: Rudman Winchell Attorney Anthony A. Trask
THE ALIMONY ENIGMA
One of the biggest concerns people have when they are contemplating or involved in a divorce is how it will impact him or her financially. For the most part the answer is simple: divorce will almost invariably have a profound impact on the financial situation of both husband and wife. After accepting this virtual certainty, the more specific question that people often have is whether one party will be obligated to pay the other spousal support, also known as alimony. As with so many legal questions, the answer is the ubiquitous “it depends.” Obviously, if neither party is asking for spousal support then the Court is not going to award it. However, if one party is seeking spousal support, the Court must consider a number of factors to determine if such an award is appropriate and if so, in what amount and for what duration.
The reason for awarding alimony is to generally provide financial assistance to a spouse with substantially less income or earning potential so that both spouses can maintain a reasonable standard of living after the divorce. The concept behind alimony is that both parties contributed in various ways to the marriage and providing financially was only one such contribution. A classic example is the mother who sacrificed a career in order to stay at home and raise the parties’ children. While she may not have contributed financially to the marriage, her contribution was extremely valuable nonetheless and the Court recognizes this. The longer the marriage, the more the parties’ respective contributions, financial and otherwise, and the longer the Court will order one of the parties to support the other financially until he or she can financially support him- or herself.
Generally, alimony is not awarded in marriages of less than ten years other than what is referred to as transitional support or support to allow the other party to get set up and on his or her feet. Under Maine law there is a presumption when a marriage lasts between ten and twenty years that spousal support will continue after the divorce for a maximum of half the length of the marriage. The law places no limit on the duration of alimony for marriages that lasts longer than twenty years, however, almost all alimony awards end upon the remarriage of the person receiving it.
These general rules are not set in stone and the entire issue of alimony and specifically the amount to be paid is one that is extremely difficult to predict because the Courts take each case on its own merits to determine what is fair and reasonable. Unlike child support, which is calculated by a formula using the parties’ respective incomes, alimony has no such predictability. The Court must simply look at the totality of the circumstances and decide on an amount and duration it feels is equitable. Complicating matters even further is the fact that no two judges are the same and different judges could hear the same case and come up with different alimony awards. Judges have very broad discretion in making decisions about alimony, and therefore, once a decision has been made, it is very difficult for a higher court to overturn that decision unless it was clearly a mistake or based on some error in interpreting the law.
The Maine Law regarding spousal support is long and complex. The full text can be found at http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/19-A/title19-Asec951-A.html. If you are contemplating divorce or are already involved in one and it appears alimony may be an issue it is highly recommended that you consult with an attorney experienced in family law. The financial implications on your future could be enormous.