According to the law in Georgia, married people are considered financially responsible for each other. And this doesn’t necessarily stop when you divorce.
Alimony is money paid by one spouse to the other, during or after a divorce. It may also be required when spouses separate but don’t divorce, or when one spouse abandons the other. Its purpose is to provide support to the more financially-disadvantaged spouse.
There are situations where it makes sense to pay alimony, such as when one spouse dropped out of the workforce so the other spouse could focus on their career—and the stay-at-home spouse now has no work history and big challenges in supporting themselves after the divorce.
Not every divorce case involves alimony and not everyone who asks for it gets it. Alimony is typically determined based on a variety of factors, and there is no set formula in Georgia.
As a result, there’s a lot of confusion about it.
Here are answers to some of the most common questions we get asked.
Who is Entitled to Alimony?
Not every couple seeks alimony, and not everyone who seeks it is granted it. Alimony is discretionary. No one is entitled to it, but the court may award it if you have a strong case.
You and your spouse may agree on an alimony settlement during mediation. But if you go to court, the judge decides whether you’re entitled to it. Alimony is only granted when the court finds that you have a need for it and your spouse has the ability to pay.
The court will look at the following factors to decide your case:
- How long you were married before divorcing
- The age and health of each spouse
- The financial situation and earning potential of each spouse
- Each spouse’s contribution to the marriage, including childcare, homemaking, career, education, and financial support
- The standard of living during the marriage
- Whether the alimony-seeking spouse has been unemployed (and for how long)
- Reasons for divorcing, including adultery and abuse
- The time and cost required for an unemployed spouse to return to school or train for a new job
In many cases, if one spouse’s actions clearly led to the dissolution of the marriage – for instance, they committed adultery or were abusive – that spouse will often not be awarded alimony, even if they have a financial need that the other spouse can pay for.
If I’ve Been Ordered to Pay Alimony, Do I Have to Pay Forever?
You may be required to pay alimony in a lump sum as a condition of the divorce, in which case it’s a one-time payment. You may also have to pay on an ongoing basis, but this is usually not permanent.
In Georgia, temporary alimony payments are more common, and often continue only until the receiving spouse gets their feet under them.
Permanent alimony payments are more rare and are typically awarded for those who are unable to work or unlikely to find a new job due to age, a health condition, or other factors.
Even permanent alimony may end when the receiving spouse remarries, passes away, or becomes financially self-supporting.
Can the Amount of Alimony Be Changed Once it’s Set?
If there is a change in the paying spouse’s circumstances, the amount of alimony may also be changed.
This is true if the paying spouse loses their job, for instance, but also if they get a raise. The amount of alimony can potentially go up or down.
What if I Can’t Afford to Pay Alimony?
The amount of alimony levied on the paying spouse is supposed to be contingent on that spouse’s ability to pay. However, judges have a great deal of discretion when it comes to deciding whether to award alimony and how much.
The paying spouse may have their payments modified if they can demonstrate that their financial circumstances have changed—for instance, they’ve lost their job or have incurred significant medical debts.
Courts typically have broad power to modify the alimony agreement, but once again, there’s no set formula.
For instance, even though it’s common to end the agreement when the receiving spouse remarries, some courts have found in favor of ending it when the receiving spouse moves in with a new romantic partner regardless of marital status.
What Happens When My Spouse Refuses to Pay Alimony?
When the paying spouse defaults on alimony or refuses to pay, there are consequences.
The receiving spouse should talk to an attorney immediately in a situation like this. The attorney will file a Complaint for Contempt with the court that granted the alimony. This document informs the court of the problem, and asks the court to enforce its own order.
The non-paying spouse will receive a copy of this complaint and a hearing will be scheduled. Both you and your ex will bring evidence; the judge will review it and decide whether your ex is in contempt of court.
In some cases, your ex may not be paying alimony for a good reason – they lost their job or sustained an injury that rendered them unable to work, for instance. If that happens, the court may modify the alimony agreement.
However, in other cases the ex is capable of paying, but doesn’t want to.
When that happens, the judge may enforce the order using one or more of the following methods:
- Ordering the former spouse to pay all alimony owed
- Levying interest on any outstanding payments
- Requiring the former spouse to sell property so they can pay alimony
- Garnishing the -former spouse’s wages
- Requiring the former spouse to pay your attorney’s fees and court costs
- Ordering jail time for the former spouse
The most common remedy in Georgia is wage garnishment. In Georgia, the courts have the authority to garnish up to 50% of an individual’s paycheck to satisfy alimony requirements.
What are the Tax Implications of Alimony?
Effective January 1, 2019, alimony no longer has tax implications. For all alimony orders entered prior to January 1, 2019, the receiving spouse has to pay taxes on their alimony payment, but the paying spouse can deduct their payments from taxes.
Work With the Best Divorce Lawyer in Cherokee County
Got an alimony issue? If so, we can build a persuasive case and defend your interests in court.
Call us at (770) 479-1500 for a free, confidential consultation. Evening and weekend appointments are available — schedule yours now.
Amanda Speights is a co-founder and lead family law attorney at Speights Law, PC in Cherokee County. She is an experienced family law lawyer who handles an assortment of domestic cases, including divorce, child custody, child support, appeals and other types of litigation in the state of Georgia. To contact Amanda, please visit our contact page.