How Does Alimony Work?

When a married couple gets divorced or legally separated in Utah, either spouse may ask the court for alimony, also known as "spousal support." Alimony is a court-ordered allowance to a spouse for the purpose of his or her support, paid by the other spouse, usually as a monthly payment. If the court awards alimony, it will order only one spouse to pay alimony to the other. At Woods Law, you can rest assured that if you request alimony, your need for support will be thoroughly advocated. Or if you are the spouse who anticipates being ordered to pay alimony, Woods Law is there to ensure that an accurate depiction of your ability or inability to pay will be heard.

To learn more about alimony in Utah, check out the following Common Questions & Answers. It is wise to hire an attorney to help you through the alimony process, but we hope this webpage also serves as a helpful resource.

 

1. What does "recipient spouse" and "payor spouse" mean? 

The "recipient" spouse is the spouse who will receive alimony from the other. The other spouse is called the "payor" spouse, i.e., the spouse who will pay the alimony.

2. How does the court decide who will pay and who will receive alimony?

Only the financially disadvantaged spouse can receive alimony. If you make less money than your spouse, or have less property, or both, you will likely be the recipient spouse. Gender is irrelevant. However, the court is not required to order the advantaged spouse to pay any alimony if doing so would make him or her unable to support him or herself.

Usually the Utah court will first decide how to divide the marital property and debt obligations between the spouses, before it decides how much alimony to award.

3. How much alimony will I be ordered to pay, and for how long?

Length of time: If you are the payor spouse and you are ordered to pay monthly alimony, as opposed to a lump sum, you will be required to make payments no longer than the amount of time the marriage lasted (with the exception of extenuating circumstances). But your obligation will be cut off if the recipient spouse dies, remarries, or cohabitates with another person. If the recipient spouse has begun to cohabitate, you must prove the cohabitation in court before you can be relieved of your requirement to pay alimony.

Amount: For most couples, there is not a set formula the court uses in determining the amount of alimony you will be required to pay. Rather, the court has a lot of discretion. It typically does not order more alimony than is necessary to meet the standard of living that existed at the time of separation. The court also takes into consideration several other factors, including the following:

  • The recipient spouse's financial condition and needs, including his or her debts and ability to pay those debts,
  • The recipient spouse's ability to earn money or produce income,
  • The payor spouse's ability to pay alimony,
  • How long the marriage lasted,
  • Whether the recipient spouse has custody of minor children and needs to receive child support,
  • When the payor spouse owned or operated a business: whether the recipient spouse worked in that business,
  • Whether the recipient spouse contributed (particularly financially) to the payor spouse's education during the marriage,
  • The "fault" of each spouse, that is, wrongful conduct that occurred during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup, which can be any of the following:
    • Sexual relations with someone other than the spouse,
    • Purposeful physical harm to the spouse or minor children,
    • Purposefully causing the spouse or minor children to reasonably fear for their lives, or
    • Substantially ruining the spouse's or minor children's financial stability,
  • The standard of living that existed at the time of separation
    • or the standard of living at the time of trial, at the court's discretion,
    • or the standard of living that existed during the marriage if the marriage was short and produced no children,
  • Whether the divorce of a long marriage takes place right as one of the spouse's incomes experiences a major change due to the collective efforts of both spouses, and
  • Whether the earning capacity of one spouse was greatly enhanced during the marriage due to the efforts of both spouses.

However, when the advantaged spouse does not have enough money to cover his or her own needs, the court will use the "income equalization" formula address in Question 4. 

4. I heard that the court uses a formula to calculate alimony if both of us make a low income. Is that true?

Yes, and the formula is called "income equalization," or as Judge Orme of the Utah Court of Appeals described it in 2010, "equalization of poverty." The formula is used when the disadvantaged spouse does not earn enough to cover his or her needs, but the advantaged spouse does not earn enough nor have the ability to provide for the disadvantaged spouse's needs either. The formula will require the advantaged spouse to pay something, but just not necessarily as much as would put the disadvantaged spouse back to the same standard of living that existed at the time of separation.

The formula: both spouses' net monthly incomes are added together, then divided by 2. Subtract the recipient spouse's net income from that number. This is the amount of alimony the payor spouse will pay.

  • For example: Wife makes $900 net a month, and Husband makes $1,500. Added together is $2,400. Divided by 2 is $1,200. If you subtract $900 (Wife's income) from $1,200, you get $300. Husband will pay $300 per month in alimony. You can see that this formula "equalizes" their incomes so that they each get a total of $1,200.

5. Can the Office of Recovery Services ("ORS") collect alimony?

It can, but only if:

  • Child support was also ordered,
  • Both the child support order and alimony order are found in the divorce decree, and
  • The alimony was ordered in a set dollar amount.

6. When is alimony due?

Normally, alimony is payable 1/2 by the 5th day of the month, and 1/2 by the 20th day of the month, unless stipulated differently in the divorce decree or a court order. If alimony is collected through ORS, it follows the same schedule, but is not considered past due until the first day of the following month.

7. Can I get alimony before the divorce is finalized?

Yes, it is possible. Alimony may be awarded temporarily while the case is pending, through a Temporary Order. But the court might amend this amount at any time between the time it issues the temporary order and the time it enters the final order.

8. How can I enforce my ex-spouse to pay alimony?

If an alimony payment is past due, you can file a motion with the court called an "Order to Show Cause." The court may order the other spouse to pay what is due, hold him or her in contempt of court, or even send him or her to jail for not complying.

9. What should I do if I have an alimony order in Utah, but my ex-spouse or I move out of Utah?

You should register the alimony order in the new state. Each state will have its own registration procedure, which you must follow before that state can enforce the payment of alimony.

10. What should I do if I already have an alimony order from another state, and then one of us moves to Utah?

You should register the alimony order in Utah. Utah will not have the authority to enforce alimony until Utah registration takes place.

To register the alimony order, you will need to file a form with the court called a "Request to Register a Foreign Support or Income-Withholding Order." This needs to be filed in the district court of the county where the Utah spouse lives. After filing the form, you must wait to see if the other spouse asks for a hearing on the matter. If they request a hearing, a commissioner or judge will need to evaluate and decide whether to register the order. But if they do not ask for a hearing within 20 days of being served, your alimony order will be automatically registered in Utah.

11. What is "lump sum" alimony, and will I be ordered to pay it?

Lump-sum alimony is either a one-time payment of a certain amount of alimony, or the payment of a set amount over a set period of time. For example: $40,000, paid in full right after the divorce; or at a set rate of $1,000 per month for 40 months.

Normally alimony is not paid as a lump sum, but is rather paid periodically, once a month, until the length of the marriage has passed or the recipient spouse gets remarried, dies, or begins cohabitation. It is very unlikely that the court would order you to pay alimony as a lump sum, unless you and the other spouse agree to and request it.

Note that if you are ordered to pay a lump sum, the recipient spouse's remarriage, death, or cohabitation does not affect your obligation to pay the full amount. In other words, you must pay the lump sum, no matter what. This is different than periodic alimony, where remarriage, death, or cohabitation will sever the alimony obligation. 

12. Could alimony include the transfer of property?

Yes, the court could possibly order the transfer of property as part or all of the alimony award.

Note that the recipient spouse's remarriage, death, or cohabitation does not affect the payor spouse's obligation to transfer the property. In other words, you must transfer the property, no matter what.

13. Does alimony affect my taxes?

Yes. If you are receiving alimony, the IRS considers it income and you must report it as such when filing your tax returns. If you are paying alimony, your payments are tax deductible.

14. Does alimony terminate upon retirement?

No, it does not automatically terminate upon retirement. In Utah, alimony typically lasts the number of years the marriage existed, or upon the recipient spouse's remarriage, death, or cohabitation. If the payor spouse believes alimony should terminate or be reduced upon his or her retirement, the payor spouse should try to include such a provision in the original decree of divorce. Otherwise, when the payor spouse retires, the payor spouse could petition the court for an order to modify alimony.