Will I have to pay Alimony? It depends.

Alimony is something a lot of men going through divorce worry about.  While the percentage of households with women as primary breadwinner is increasing, men still have this role in the majority of households.  Therefore, alimony is something likely to be considered in a fathers’ rights divorce case.  How does alimony work?  In Oklahoma, alimony is based on need and ability to pay.  The “need” of the party seeking alimony must arise out of the marriage.  For example, in a divorce between a housewife and neurosurgeon, where the wife gave up her career-building years to take care of the children and household, the need for alimony would arise out of the marriage.  This is because wife’s contribution to the marital estate was staying at home with the children and taking care of the household.  The need arising out of the marriage typically increases based on the length of the marriage.  A 60 year old, life-long housewife would have a much more difficult time re-entering the work force than a 30 year old.  Also, dependence on the other spouse would presumably be greater.  Let’s say they got married when wife was 25 years old.  Overcoming 35 years of depending on husband’s income is harder than 5 years of dependence.  Additionally, there is more time to build a lifestyle and become accustomed to that lifestyle.  It is a lot easier to raise your lifestyle than to lower it, or least that’s my opinion.

Health is another aspect of “need arising out of the marriage”.  Suppose husband is a quadriplegic at the time of marriage (use your imagination).  Wife supports the family.  Upon divorce, is husband’s health a “need arising out of the marriage?”  If his health is much the same as when the couple married, the answer is probably no.  Suppose several years after marriage, wife contracts Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Because the condition surfaced during marriage, it affects her need for alimony arising out of the marriage.

The other factor, ability to pay, is more straight-forward.  Tiger Woods was married to Elin Nordegren, a model, for only 6 years.  As a model, she probably could have taken care of herself fairly easily.  She probably would not be homeless without alimony from Woods.  However, even though her need was small, Woods’ ability to pay was very high.  He was the first athlete to have earnings over 1 billion dollars.  The divorce reportedly netted Nordegren around 100 million dollars.  Woods’ ability to pay more than compensated for Nordegren’s lack of need.  This is an important concept in alimony determinations: the lack of one factor can be overcome by an abundance of the other factor.

Suppose you are a wealthy man, potentially looking at a steep alimony judgment.  What do you do?  The first thing is call a lawyer, of course!  Next, focus on your true ability to pay.  A lot of mistakes are made by using figures that don’t take all the facts into account.  How about taxes?  Yes they matter.  What if you were married to Wesley Snipes, and his tax debt was not considered?  Would his income figure be accurate?  Of course not.  Tax liability will reduce someone’s actual ability to pay.  There are other expenses to consider, like assuming marital debts, expensive private school tuition or caring for an aged parent.  Make sure the figure used for your ability to pay takes all pertinent expenses into account.

You may also want to address your wife’s actual need.  In discovery (evidence gathering during litigation) you will want to inquire about the expenses which make up your wife’s purported need.  Need should be founded in evidence, not conjecture.  If the stated expenses don’t match the requested amount, it will be tougher for her to make her case.

The tricky part about alimony is it doesn’t follow a set calculation formula.  The amount and length of time for alimony payments depend on the judge’s subjective view of need and ability to pay.  The key is to hire a lawyer who is familiar with the legal culture of your jurisdiction.  Tradition plays a big role in how alimony judgments are made.  Someone who knows the patterns in the community, or better yet, the patterns of your judge in particular, will be invaluable to you.