What Is The Nature And Purpose Of Alimony?

Alimony is an allowance out of one party’s estate for the support of the other party when living separately. It is to be awarded to either spouse (husband or wife) in accordance with the needs of the spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay. However, you must remember that the judge or the jury is not required to award alimony.

Alimony may be either temporary or permanent; and permanent alimony may continue indefinitely during the separation or after a final decree of divorce. Alimony may also be awarded as a lump sum.

What Is The Criteria In Determining The Amount Of Alimony?

If the parties cannot reach an agreement as to what alimony is to be paid, at a final trial, the judge (or jury) is granted a wide latitude in evaluating the evidence and determining the amount of permanent alimony, if any. The rationale for this discretion is that the facts and circumstances in each case are different, and it is impossible to fix any rule for a precise mathematical calculation of the amount of permanent alimony to be awarded. Alimony is different from child support where there are guidelines to determine a presumptive amount of child support based upon the parties’ incomes.

The following factors must now be considered in determining the amount of permanent alimony, if any, to be awarded:

  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The age and the physical and emotional condition of both parties;
  • The financial resources of each party;
  • Where applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable him/her to find appropriate employment;
  • The contribution of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party;
  • The condition of the parties, including the separate estate, earning capacity, and fixed liabilities of the parties; and
  • Such other relevant factors as the court deems equitable and proper.

The needs of a spouse and the other spouse’s ability to pay are the foremost factors that are generally considered in making an award of permanent alimony. Furthermore, the facts associated with the separation, including the conduct of the parties towards each other, may now be taken into consideration in determining the amount to be awarded as alimony.

 How Is Alimony Paid?

Once it is determined that one spouse should receive alimony, it must then be determined in what form permanent alimony is to be paid or transferred, including the manner and terms of payment. Permanent alimony may be awarded in cash, either from the spouse’s earnings, or from the spouse’s estate, to be paid in a lump sum or periodic payments over a period of time. The following examples will help illustrate what a court may order one spouse to do for the support of the other:

  • A spouse may be ordered to pay a predetermined amount for a certain period of time;
  • A spouse may be ordered to carry life insurance, hospitalization or medical insurance for the benefit of the other spouse or the children, or to pay that spouse’s reasonable medical and dental bills after the divorce.
  • A spouse may be required to pay any expenditures for the benefit of the other spouse which are considered as necessaries (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, medical care, transportation, etc.).
  • A spouse may be required to pay the previous debts of the other spouse.

How Long Does Alimony Get Paid?

The law in the State of Georgia provides that all unperformed obligations for permanent alimony to a spouse shall cease upon that spouse’s remarriage, unless otherwise provided by the decree; this is occurs when there is an award of periodic alimony where payments are being made for an indefinite period of time. However, awards of “lump sum” alimony to a spouse or a “property settlement,” even though payable in installments, will not cease upon the spouse’s remarriage; generally this type of alimony states the exact number and amount of payments without other limitations, conditions, or statements of intent (e.g., alimony in the amount of $24,000.00 payable in 24 equal installments of $1,000.00). The determining factor is the intent of the parties in the case of an agreement incorporated into the decree or the substance of the decree taken as a whole, not merely the nomenclature of the award as “alimony,” or a “property settlement,” or an “equitable division of property.”

Additionally, the death of the obligated party terminates his/her obligation to pay future alimony, unless there is a clear expression of intent to the contrary. As previously discussed, support payable in form as a “lump sum” or “property settlement” are not “periodic alimony, and thus may be collected from the decedent’s estate.

Subsequent to a divorce awarding periodic alimony for the support of a spouse, the voluntary “cohabitation” of such former spouse with a third party in a meretricious relationship is grounds for the termination of alimony payments. However, such conduct does not require termination or a revision of the alimony; it only provides that the judge, or jury, may modify and revise the previous judgment. “Cohabitation” means dwelling together continuously and openly in a meretricious relationship with another person regardless of the sex of the other person. The cohabitation must go beyond mere periodic, physical interludes.