Not every divorce involves an award of alimony, but in those cases where alimony is appropriate, then regardless of whether you are the potential recipient or the one who potentially pays, the next questions are: How much alimony? And for how long?
Before we get to those questions, let’s address any misconceptions fostered by “traditional” notions of alimony. In Georgia, either party can receive alimony. Official Code of Georgia (2015 Edition) §19-6-1 (c). Which means that either party can be required to pay alimony. Some of my “husband” clients have received alimony. Some of my “wife” clients are surprised to learn they might have to pay. The law is gender-neutral in this regard.
In Georgia, alimony will be determined “in accordance with the needs of the party and the ability of the other party to pay.” The eight factors that “shall be considered in determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be awarded.” Georgia Code (2015 Edition) §19-6-5(a).
Admittedly, the law will be applied to your situation by a judge who brings his/her individual preferences, experiences and ideas -- and a lot of discretion -- to the equation. That’s why you risk a lot when you put these decisions into the hands of the judge instead of working things out with your partner after educating yourself about the law, your options, and probable outcomes.
So, back to our questions. How much alimony? And for how long? In Georgia, alimony will be determined “in accordance with the needs of the party and the ability of the other party to pay.” Official Code of Georgia (2015 Edition); §19-6-1 (c). That’s really not helpful. Luckily, the law provides us with eight factors that “shall be considered in determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be awarded.” Georgia Code (2015 Edition) §19-6-5(a). Here they are:
(1) The standard of living established during the marriage. This does not mean that the recipient automatically will be supported at the same rate as before the divorce. Nor does it mean that a wealthy recipient will be forced to live in poverty. Standard of living is but one factor to be considered along with the rest.
(2) The duration of the marriage. Generally, the shorter the marriage, the lower the alimony. Of course, there can be exceptions. Consider the case of a 2-month arranged marriage that ended and alimony was awarded to the non-English speaking partner who was brought to the US from another country and then physical abused. Sometimes, the duration of the marriage becomes a less important factor in light of the total circumstances.
(3) The age and the physical and emotional condition of both parties. Typically, those younger and healthier will receive/pay less alimony than their unhealthy elders.
(4) The financial resources of each party. Most often a wealthy recipient will receive less and a wealthy payor will pay more (and vice versa).
(5) Where applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable him to find appropriate employment. If the payor is not earning to his/her capability, then the amount of alimony might be less, at least for a time, until capabilities can be improved. On the other hand, the recipient might receive more alimony until he/she has retrained to enter or re-enter the job market. For example, a former teacher might need to be re-certified before returning to the classroom or a chiropractor might need to complete and pass the board examinations necessary to be licensed to practice.
(6) The contribution of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party. It's not just about the paycheck. This factor recognizes the “non-monetary” contributions of each partner.
(7) The condition of the parties, including the separate estate, earning capacity, and fixed liabilities of the parties. For example, recipients with family trust funds would receive comparatively less than those without independent wealth. Similarly, the amount of debt assigned to each party will be an alimony consideration, as well as earning capacity.
(8) Such other relevant factors as the court deems equitable and proper. This is the “catch-all” provision that gives judges broad discretion. It allows a judge to base the alimony determination on anything she/he determines is relevant.