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Alimony: A primer

“When they first started writing all the divorce laws, it was almost called ‘all the money,’ but someone thought that was too forward. Now we just call it alimony.”

-    Unknown    -

What is it?

Alimony (aka “spousal support”) is a monetary award given to help maintain the living standard of a spouse following divorce. Functioning as a part of the property division process, alimony is a measure meant to prevent divorce from leaving one spouse with a steady income and the other destitute. More often than not, the story goes something like this:

Individuals A and B meet and get married, both have good, stable jobs. The couple has two kids and decides that spouse A should stay home with the children. Spouse B is successful at work and the couple enjoy a high standard of living. Fifteen years later, the couple gets divorced and the children choose to live with spouse A. In the divorce proceedings, spouse A is awarded by the judge both child support and alimony.

Because spouse A essentially gave up his or her career to ensure the marital household’s smooth operation and the welfare of the couple’s children, the court found it appropriate to compensate spouse A and make accommodations to maintain his or her standard of living. In short, the court tries to decide if the spouse “needs” additional support following the divorce.

How is it determined?

It is difficult for a court to quantify just how much a spouse, such as spouse A, contributes to the marital estate, but it is generally agreed in courts across the US that a stay-at-home spouse contributes greatly to the overall health and wealth of a marriage and family. The challenges of how to value a stay-at-home spouse’s contribution, how much they “need” to maintain his or her standard of living, and how much the other spouse is able to pay make alimony one of the “most difficult of all the family law monetary awards to predict” in Oklahoma (Spector 253). Some states have rather strict alimony guidelines, and alimony awards in those states are somewhat predictable. Oklahoma, on the other hand, leaves alimony decisions up to judges. There are several factors, however, that can help determine whether or not an individual will be eligible or demonstrates a “need” for alimony. These factors are roughly defined below:

  1. Demonstrated need during the post-divorce economic readjustment period
  2. The parties’ station in life
  3. Length of the marriage and age of the spouses
  4. Earning potential of the spouses as well as their physical condition and financial means
  5. The accustomed style of living of the parties
  6. Evidence of a spouse’s own income-producing capacity and time needed to make the post-divorce transition for self-support (ibid 274)

Most of the time, alimony is awarded as monthly payments; however, in some instances, alimony has been given as some other type of property. It is worth noting that if the spouse receiving alimony remarries or begins cohabitating with his or her new significant other, he or she revokes the right to receive alimony.

Conclusion

Not every judge and not every court looks at these factors in the same light. Ultimately, there is no formula for alimony in Oklahoma. If a judge believes that one spouse demonstrates the need for financial support, that spouse will most likely be awarded alimony. There is a pithy adage once utter by an old man worth keeping in mind. He said that “it’s cheaper to keeper.” While certainly not every divorce should be measured through this lens, it is worth noting that very rarely is divorce a positive economic event.

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Bibliography

Spector, Robert, G. Oklahoma Family Law: The Handbook. Dallas: Imprimatur Press. 2012. Print.