Will I have to Pay Alimony Forever?
“I work incredibly hard to earn the income that I take home. I may not want to continue to work until normal retirement age. But if I do work that long, I don’t want to still be paying alimony after I retire.”
These feelings are very common for the high wage-earner in a divorce. The duration of the payment of alimony may be of even more concern to the payor than the amount. So if this is your situation, what do you need to know?
- The Outcome is Very Fact Specific. Whether you live in Virginia, Maryland or the District of Columbia, that jurisdiction’s statutes specify the factors the court must consider in determining the duration of alimony. In Virginia, for example, the factors include the duration of the marriage, the standard of living of the parties, the contributions of each party (including non-monetary contributions such as homemaking), and the earning capacity of each party. Among these, the length of the marriage is of particular importance.
- Alimony Won’t Terminate Just Because the Payor Retires. Although the income of the party paying alimony will go down or end when he or she retires, that doesn’t mean that court-ordered alimony will terminate. Rather, it most likely will be necessary for the payor to file with the court to obtain an order ending the alimony payments, and the court’s discretion, after weighing all of the relevant facts, will come into play in deciding whether or not to terminate the alimony obligation. Thus, the outcome is uncertain and unpredictable.
- If Limiting the Term of Alimony is Important, You May Be Better Off in Settlement Negotiations Rather Than Litigation. The remedies available in a divorce are limited by statutory and case law. Even though a judge may want to enter a particular order, the law may not permit it. However, in settlement negotiations, the parties have much greater ability to be flexible and creative in crafting a resolution that best suits their needs and interests. There are many settlement options open to the alimony-paying party who wants to limit the term of alimony. For example, the parties’ agreement may specify that alimony terminates upon the retirement of the payor, provided that certain specifications are met, such as after age 65. The parties’ agreement may put other assets – such as a mortgage-free home or more than half of the retirement assets – in the alimony-receiving spouse’s column in exchange for limited term alimony. Or the alimony may be “front loaded” (so long as care is taken with regard to certain tax issues) so that funds can be saved for use in the years after alimony ends on a specified date.
If limiting the term of alimony is important in your divorce, get the assistance early on of an experienced attorney who can help you be best positioned to achieve that goal.