When couples are getting ready to divorce, their mind often turns to financial concerns—specifically, how much they will have to pay to the other spouse or how much they can expect to receive from the other spouse. They often just lump what they might have to pay, or what they are paying, into one giant payment in their minds. But in reality, there are two distinct areas where someone may be obligated to pay money to the other spouse on an ongoing, periodic basis — alimony and child support.
There are differences in the intent and purpose of both of these items, as well as different factors that determine how much the payor spouse (the spouse paying the money) will pay.
The Purpose and Logic of Child Support
As the name implies, child support is money that one spouse pays to the other to pay for the living expenses necessary to care for and raise the child. The logic is that if the parents were still together, both would share the child’s daily living expenses, so that should not change just because the parties are divorcing or separating. One parent should not have a child with the other and then be able to walk away from the marriage, leaving the other to pay 100% of the child’s expenses.
It can be hard for many payor (the party paying the money) parent to reconcile that even though the child support money is for the child, the money is paid to the other parent. Additionally, as a general rule, there is no legal requirement on how child support money is used. Nobody is monitoring the funds to make sure they only go toward the child’s expenses.
The law just assumes that whatever the actual money is used for, the additional income will eventually benefit the child. This can create anger and frustration with parents paying child support, who may feel that their money is not being used for the child.
Who Pays What?
As a general rule, the parent who has the child the fewer nights will often be the parent paying child support, although income also counts as well–the more income, the more support will be paid.
However, it is possible for parents to share timesharing 50%-50%, and while this does not eliminate the necessity to pay child support, an evenly divided time-sharing schedule can reduce the child support obligation that the payor parent must pay.
Florida has child support guidelines. That means that in most cases, you will plug in your income figures, and with a few additions and deductions that are allowed under the child support guidelines, you will have a child support figure. It is just math based on a statutory formula.
The biggest argument in child support often comes with what number goes into the formula; parents will often argue that the other parent is hiding income or artificially lowering income just to get a smaller dollar figure to put into the formula and thus, a smaller child support obligation.
Child support ends when the child turns 18 or enters college—however, special circumstances like a disability may extend child support. Additionally, unlike alimony, the court can order that child support be deducted automatically from the paying spouse’s paycheck through an income deduction order.
Alimony is different from child support in that alimony is awarded for the benefit of the payee (receiving) spouse. The purpose of alimony is to keep a spouse in about the same lifestyle that he or she had during the marriage; it is not fair for a spouse to contribute to the marriage for many years, give up personal financial or professional opportunities, and then be left destitute after a divorce because the other spouse was the money earner in the marriage.
Unlike child support, there is no mathematical formula and no grid of numbers that tell anybody how much alimony is or will be. This means that a court has much discretion in awarding alimony and that every case may be different based on the facts. This is another area where mediation may be helpful, as you can mitigate the risk of a large alimony award being given by a judge.
Alimony is based on the need and ability to pay; the receiving spouse must show the financial need, and the paying spouse must have the ability to pay the alimony (even if it is just a small amount of alimony). Additionally, the length of the marriage will be considered. Shorter-term marriages often result in no alimony award at all, or smaller payments for shorter time periods, whereas with longer marriages, there is often a presumption that some form of alimony must be paid.
To see if alimony should be awarded and how much, the court will look at things like the standard of living of the couple during the marriage, the financial resources both spouses will have once the marriage is over, and the contributions to the marriage that a spouse made, such as raising kids helping a family business grow, taking care of the home, or other sacrifices made by one spouse, for the success of the marriage and family.
Types of Alimony
Alimony is much more flexible than child support. There are many different kinds of alimony. Some include:
- Bridge-the-Gap – this is temporary, short-term alimony, just to help a spouse get “over the hump” of going from married to single life. This alimony can only last for two years
- Rehabilitative – this is where a spouse can become financially self-sufficient but may need time and resources to do that. The spouse may need to wait to get job training or wait until a child gets old enough that the parent can go to work, or the spouse may need to get a degree. During that time, the paying spouse will pay rehabilitative alimony.
- Durational – This is like rehabilitative alimony, but there is no rehabilitation plan; the alimony just lasts a specific period of time and then ceases. This support can last for no more than the number of years that the marriage lasted.
- Permanent – Permanent alimony is usually reserved for very long marriages and situations where the receiving spouse has no reasonable expectation of being able to support him or herself. For example, a spouse may be too old to be retrained or may be ill or disabled. The receiving spouse may not ever be able to work because they need to take care of a special needs child.
Of course, you have much more control over what you pay and can try to craft a payment agreement that works better for you and your own situation by resolving the case on your own. The best way to ensure that your child support or alimony obligations, if they are necessary, are fair and reasonable is to try to come to some kind of agreement outside of court through mediation or settlement.
We can help you understand the financial aspects and obligations that you may face in your divorce and get you the best result possible. An attorney at the Law Firm of Anthony J. Diaz can help. Contact us for questions about your alimony or child support case.