Paying Your Ex-Wife or Ex-Husband: The Realities of Spousal Support by Jacqueline Newman
Spousal support is what the higher-earning spouse will pay to the lower-earning spouse for his or her financial support either during the divorce process, after the divorce is over or both during and after. This does differ from child support, as that financial bucket applies to the overall support of your children.
The spouse that has a lower or no income is usually entitled to receive money from the breadwinner in order to maintain his or her lifestyle or at least until that person is able to become financially stable on his or her own. Yes, that might seem simple and you might very well be dreading reading this chapter, but I encourage you to continue. Improving your education in this area will help in divorce negotiation or during the trial because this concept can be incredibly complex.
Historical Standards and Current Application
Spousal support, like asset distribution and child support, differs significantly depending on in what state you are getting divorced. In fact, spousal support awards can even vary by county – so make sure you are speaking with your attorney on what specifically applies to your case and how the judge that you are appearing before tends to lean. Believe me when I say that individual judges do have bias in this matter. Judges do hold the most power when awarding spousal support, and this is why amounts vary so much on a case-by-case basis.
Financial Factors and Formulas
When considering your situation, realize that if there is a formula followed by your state in awarding spousal support, this may be not mandatory but merely a suggestion. This does not mean that courts simply wing it in this regard, but they may deviate from existing formulas because of the nature of your case or because there are unique factors to consider.
Logging Your Expenses
Here is a list of categories for which I ask my clients to record their expenses (including the expenses for your children as well):
- Unreimbursed medical.
- Household maintenance.
- Household help.
- Income taxes .
- Anything that does not fall under any of the categories above.
Track everything. Also, make it a point to reference credit card statements, keep receipts and compile notes to figure out these numbers.
Assessing Spousal Support
To figure out whether you are dealing with a spousal support case, I usually will first look at the lower-earning spouse’s budget list. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume your wife earns less than you. I will remove the third-party expenses related to the kids, hereinafter referred to as “children’s extra expenses,” such as educational expenses, unreimbursed medical expenses, health insurance expenses relating to the children, child care (to cover when your wife is working) and extracurricular activities.
Tax Law Changes on Spousal Support
Please note that until the tax law changes in 2019, spousal support is taxable to the recipient and deductible to the payor. It is a topline deduction, meaning that it will not phase out, regardless of how much money the payor makes. However, this also makes for complex negotiations. This is where an accountant can be helpful. An accountant can run an analysis to figure out which tax bracket would be applicable to calculate how much she needs to receive in pre-tax dollars.
The Duration of Spousal Support
Never fear. I know you are probably worried (especially if you are the primary breadwinner) that you are going to be supporting your ex-wife for the rest of your natural existence. That is not necessarily the case, so take a deep breath. Many states use formulas for this and some do not. For instance, in New York at the time of this writing, guidelines say that if you are married up to 15 years, support will equal 15 to 30 percent of the length of the marriage.
If you are married for more than 15 years up to 20, then support can be awarded for 30 to 40 percent of the length of the marriage. For marriages that last more than 20 years, support can be awarded for 35 to 50 percent of the length of the marriage. To make sure you understand this correctly, realize that you could be married for 14 years and either be responsible for or receive support for a period as little as two years.
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