Serving Clients in Knox, Blount, Anderson, Loudon, Sevier & Roane Counties

How to Prepare your Best Case for (or against) an award of alimony

Getting divorced is one of the biggest financial adjustments for any family, and it is often the case that one spouse is going to have to pay the other spouse some amount of money, called alimony. The types of alimony are

  • Transitional alimony - help with the transition to single status;
  • Rehabilitative alimony – to help pay for an education or to start a business, so the economically disadvantaged spouse can become self-supporting;
  • Alimony in futuro – intended to pay expenses because, for some reason, one of the spouses cannot work – perhaps because they have to take care of a disabled family member or are disabled themselves; or
  • Alimony in solido – most commonly awarded because one spouse is taking income producing assets that the other spouse is not going to be able to accumulate.

To determine whether you are going to get any alimony, and if so, what type and how much, the Court will want you and your attorney to be able to answer the following questions:

  • How much money do you make vs. how much money your spouse makes?
  • What financial needs do each of you have?
  • How far did each of you go in school?
  • What training could either of you get to improve your earning capacity?
  • How long were you two married?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you have the mental ability to manage in a workplace?
  • Do you have the physical ability to work?
  • Do either of you need to stay home for some reason?
  • Do either of you have separate assets that can be used to support you?
  • What property and/or debt is each of you taking from the marriage?
  • What standard of living did you two enjoy during the marriage?
  • Who contributed to getting and maintaining that standard of living?
  • Who broke up the marriage? (sometimes – we’ll write another blog on this point)
  • What tax consequences will an alimony award have against a party?
  • Does this alimony award feel fair (to the Judge)?

Your lawyer’s job is to answer these questions in a way that favors you. At Held Law Firm, we have found that by engaging in a systematic analysis of both your and your spouse’s spending habits, we can do the best job advising you, and advocating for you in court.

The factor most strongly considered by the Judge is the ability of one spouse to pay, and the need of the other spouse for the money. To answer that question, we need both spouses to get real about their spending habits.

We begin that process by performing an analysis of your current spending habits. We’ll ask you for your best estimate of a budget, and to bring us the previous year of bank and credit card statements, to assess whether your estimate feels correct. We’ll identify which of these expenditures are yours and which are your spouses, and also which of the bills are set (like a mortgage) and which are discretionary (like clothing and haircuts).

Once we have that information analyzed, we’ll talk to you about what you want your post-divorce life to look like. Do you want to stay in the marital residence, or is now the time to finally get that condo downtown? Do you want to have money for travel, or are you more interested in staying home and playing with your grandchildren? The clearer the picture we have of what you want to do with this next phase of your life, the better job we’ll be able to budget for it.

Once we know what your goals are, we can plan for what income you’ll need to reach your goals. That plan may include going back to school or getting that first job in a while, if you have traditionally stayed home. Or it may be that it’s time for your ex to use that degree you paid for while you were married, if you are the person at risk of having to pay. There will be areas to cut back on, for sure, but in our experience, both parties have things they spend money on that the other party doesn’t care about. When we trim their expenditures from your budget, any shortfall is usually pretty minimal.

For example, in one divorce we finished recently, a wife collected jewelry. This was a source of resentment for our client, the husband, who wanted to spend his money on travel. When we eliminated those recurring jewelry purchases from his budget, he suddenly had money to not only give his former wife a modest alimony award, which she could use to buy jewelry if she got a job to pay her bills, but he finally got to book that overseas vacation.

No one wants to remain financially entangled post divorce, but if it’s awarded, in our experience, careful planning can result in both parties leaving the divorce more economically satisfied than during the marriage. For the spouse receiving alimony, instead of having to compete with your spouse for how money gets spent, you have all the control over all of your money, perhaps for the first time. But even our clients who pay alimony usually wind up with more in their pocket afterwards; after all, when you are married, and sharing a joint bank account, it’s like handing your spouse a blank check. Limit how much of your earnings that your spouse gets, and you often wind up better off.

If you can’t agree on an alimony award, you will need your lawyer to present a compelling case for your position in the courtroom. By engaging in this careful analysis of both your and your spouse’s economic circumstances, challenges, and opportunities, you present yourself as the credible, reasonable voice – the voice the Judges will heed in the courtroom.