Alimony in Georgia is common when two spouses are separating or getting a divorce. In some contexts, it is referred to as spousal support or maintenance.
It is a court-ordered allowance made by one partner for the financial support of the other when living separately (after a divorce or separation).
This article is a comprehensive discussion of alimony in the state, including rules for eligibility and calculation.
Types of Alimony Available in Georgia
A family court in Georgia can order temporary or permanent alimony. Temporary alimony is awarded to a spouse who needs financial support during the divorce process. Depending on the local rules and complexity of each case, divorce in Georgia could last up to a year. During this period, temporary alimony could go a long way towards supporting the financially dependent spouse.
Temporary alimony is awarded to support one spouse until the judge finalizes the divorce. Yet, such an award doesn’t guarantee spousal support after the divorce. Once the court issues the divorce decree, the judge will decide whether it is appropriate to award permanent alimony. If it is, the judge will create a new order that will take effect after the divorce.
Permanent alimony, unlike what the name suggests, is not always awarded for an unlimited period. Alimony is mainly awarded to spouses who need financial support to acquire education or vocational skills to help them secure employment. Eventually, this allows them to become self-supporting. In Georgia, courts reserve long-term alimony for spouses who can’t find a job and support themselves due to age or a debilitating condition.
Determination of Spousal Support in Georgia
Until the enactment of the Divorce Code of 1980, there were no provisions for alimony under Georgia law. This law, instead, provides that a court may allow alimony to either spouse. However, this will happen only if a judge establishes that alimony is necessary. Georgia law also provides that married spouses are financially responsible for each other. This duty lasts until a family court issues the final decree in divorce, and not upon separation.
Rather than a general remedy in divorce, the state authorizes alimony only in limited situations. There’s no predetermined average alimony in Georgia, and a court considers various factors in alimony calculation. Generally, a court will award alimony if it determines that one spouse is financially dependent on the other. Also, the court must determine whether the paying spouse has the ability to pay alimony.
In determining whether to award alimony or not, a court also considers the reason for separation or divorce. Particularly, the court is keen to determine whether a divorce was filed based on fault. Sometimes, reasons such as adultery, desertion, habitual intoxication or domestic violence may be the cause of divorce. In such cases, the court may order the at-fault party to pay “punitive” alimony.
Alimony matters can also be solved through negotiations. Spouses may agree to an alimony arrangement without depending on a judge to decide the issue. However, such an agreement must be included in the final divorce order or else your spouse may stop making payments at any time.
Calculation of Alimony in Georgia
An alimony award and the amount to be paid depends on one spouse’s need for financial support and the other’s ability to pay. If a court establishes the presence of both, it will consider the following factors before deciding on a final support award:
- The marital living standards of the couple
- The length of the marriage
- The age, physical, and emotional health of each spouse
- The financial resources and earning capacity of both spouses
- The amount of time it would take the supported spouse to acquire education or work training to secure suitable employment
- The contribution of each spouse to the other’s education and career-building
- The degree by which the supported spouse’s education or skills got outdated while fulfilling homemaking responsibilities, including childcare
- Each spouse’s financial situation, including separate assets and debts
- Any other factor the court considers to be pertinent
A family court will also consider whether marital misconduct was the cause for marriage termination. The court may order the reduction or denial of alimony for a spouse that would have otherwise received alimony. This often happens if the court establishes that the spouse committed adultery or deserted the other spouse. Further, the court may order that the victim of marital misconduct be paid permanent alimony.
Alimony and Child Support Payments in Georgia
Courts may also consider child custody and child support payments if the requesting spouse is the custodial parent. These factors are taken into account when determining whether alimony is appropriate and in determining the amount as well.
Child custody is particularly considered if the child’s age or condition hinders the parent from engaging in any gainful employment outside their home. For such spouses, it would be difficult to care for the child without support. A judge will consider the child support payments made and determine whether the custodial parent needs spousal support.
Unlike calculations for child support, alimony calculation doesn’t follow a specific formula. To calculate alimony in Georgia, a judge will consider the factors listed in the previous section and decide the appropriate alimony amount.
Making Alimony Payments in Georgia
In most cases, alimony payments are periodic. This means that they are paid weekly or monthly and continue until the court orders payments to stop. Payment of spousal support may also be in the form of a one-time, lump-sum payment to the other spouse. Depending on the arrangement of spouses, payment of alimony may involve property division, where the receiving spouse usually gets a slightly larger share of the marital property.
Lump-sum alimony payments aren’t common, as most spouses may not have the funds to make a one-time payment (particularly after a divorce). However, if a spouse’s circumstances allow for it, such payments can help them avoid ongoing payments.
For periodic alimony payments, the court is likely to issue an income deduction order. This order directs the employer of the paying spouse to deduct alimony from wages and channel the deductions to the family support registry.
Modification or Termination of Alimony in Georgia
Either spouse can request a review of spousal support unless there was a written agreement indicating that neither would seek to modify alimony in the future. The spouse who requests a review of alimony must demonstrate to the court a change in financial circumstances. Such circumstances include:
- Wage reduction or involuntary job loss
- A condition or illness that prevents the paying spouse from working
- An increase in income for the receiving spouse
If the receiving spouse starts to cohabit or remarries, the court will most certainly end alimony payments. For a judge to order modification of alimony, the change in circumstances has to be significant. A reduction of alimony may not be granted based on slight adjustments to either spouse’s financial resources or income.
When filing a motion to decrease alimony, you have to submit documents that indicate your financial information, including income, assets, debts and expenses. Along with the response to your request, your ex-spouse will also be required to provide the same documents.
Once a motion for modification has been filed, what follows is the “discovery” process. During this stage, either spouse has the right to request the other to produce additional financial documents. Such documents may be essential in showing a spouse’s need for financial support and the other’s ability to pay. Typically, these documents include pay stubs, financial documents and tax returns.
Tax Implications on Alimony
Before January 1, 2019, alimony payments were tax-deductible to the payer and taxable to the recipient. However, the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated the tax deduction benefits and income reporting requirements of alimony. Today, spouses don’t have to alter alimony awards to account for what is lost upon tax deduction.
Frequently Asked Questions About Alimony
Below are commonly asked questions about alimony in Georgia:
– How Long Do I Have to Pay Alimony?
A Georgia family court will determine the duration of alimony payments. The duration will depend on various factors, including the type of alimony awarded. If a judge orders payment of temporary alimony, the payments will end after the judge issues the final divorce decree.
If spouses draft an alimony agreement, they may specify the duration of payment. There’s no standard length of marriage for alimony in Georgia. However, a court is likely to consider how long spouses have been married before deciding on the duration of payment. A commonly used standard is one year of alimony to be paid for every three years of marriage.
Alimony payments will also end if your ex-spouse remarries or starts to cohabit with another person. Payments may also be long-term. This is the case if a judge establishes that the receiving spouse may not engage in any gainful employment due to a condition or advanced age.
– What Happens If I Don’t Pay Alimony?
If you’re behind on alimony payments, the amount owed is known as alimony arrears. This amount can be collected via mediation, wage garnishment, or small claims court. Since alimony is a court-ordered payment, it is important that you pay exactly as you’re ordered.
It’s not uncommon for the paying spouse to be late on alimony payments. With deliberate refusal to pay or habitual payment problems, the court may charge you with contempt and punish you accordingly. Punishment includes penalties, fines, liens on property, or a jail term.
– Can a Prenuptial Agreement Waive Alimony?
Under Georgia divorce laws, a prenuptial agreement is a legal document that can help establish, limit, or eliminate alimony in the event of a divorce. If a court finds that a prenup is legally binding, then it can be used to waive alimony. However, a clause to waive alimony has to be included in the prenuptial agreement for this to happen.
– Can a Cohabiting Partner Collect Alimony?
Alimony payments end once the receiving spouse remarries or starts to cohabit with another non-relative adult of either sex. If this is the case, you can file a motion with a family court citing a change in circumstances for a judge to end alimony payment.
– Can I Legally Avoid Paying Alimony?
Normally, spouses can waive alimony payments by putting the agreement in writing in a prenuptial agreement. However, a paying spouse may look for ways to legally avoid paying alimony even without a prenup. A good place to start is looking at the state laws to find out whether your spouse has disqualified themselves for alimony in any way. For instance, you could avoid paying alimony if you prove your spouse’s infidelity.
Reducing Your Income
But are there legal ways of dodging alimony payments after a court has issued the order? You could try changing up your lifestyle. Remember, a court may modify or end alimony payment if you prove a significant change in your financial circumstances. If you’re the paying spouse, you could downgrade by, say, getting a lower-paying job.
Yet, this tactic could be a fool’s errand. The court may determine that you willfully took up a lower-paying job. Under Georgia alimony laws, you may be ordered to continue making payments as if you were working your previous high-paying job.
Proving Your Ex-Spouse Does Not Need Alimony
Another way is to prove that your spouse doesn’t need alimony. If you could prove that they are simply being vindictive and don’t actually need spousal support, a judge could reject their request to get alimony.
Some spouses also opt to be stay-at-home parents even if it is not fully necessary. In such cases, you may request a judge to evaluate your spouse’s ability to work. If they have the education and skills but aren’t willing to seek employment, a judge may order payment of temporary alimony or none at all.
One of the issues that come up during divorce is alimony. We’ve discussed most aspects of alimony in detail and answered some frequently asked questions about alimony in Georgia. But what are the main things to remember?
- Alimony is based on one spouse’s need for financial support and the other’s ability to pay
- Alimony can be temporary or permanent
- Spouses can agree on alimony issues or a judge can make a decision on alimony payment
- Termination or modification of alimony can be done by proving a change in financial circumstances of either spouse
- Alimony payment ends when the receiving spouse remarries or starts to cohabit with another person.
Alimony laws in Georgia provide that spousal support is rehabilitative and should only be used to help the receiving spouse be self-sufficient. Proving that the financial situation of your spouse has changed can help you end alimony payment.
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