0232: How Does Spousal Support Work? - Part 2
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In this episode, we are continuing the series on spousal support/alimony, whatever name you want to call it. And the importance of this episode is to cover the different types of spousal support or alimony available. I'm going to go through five different types, temporary support, permanent support, rehabilitative support, lump sum, and partial lump-sum support. So, let's jump in.
Let's start with temporary support. Temporary support, generally speaking, is - before or during the divorce process - you have a temporary support amount you may be paying or receiving. It's the support you agree upon before the divorce is over. Pretty clear. The important thing to know about temporary agreements, and I say this almost every day on calls or when people are negotiating, whether you're the person about to pay or receive temporary spousal support, be very careful about what you decide. The numbers that you agree upon for temporary support often become the support numbers you use after divorce.
And so, if you agree to a $1,000 a month, oftentimes the agreement after the divorce will be $1,000 a month. There is a lot less flexibility. Generally speaking, once you agree upon a temporary support number that often becomes the final support amount that you use after the divorce process. So, something to be very careful about there. Permanent support. Permanent support is what it sounds like. Permanent support is support for life. It's generally speaking, not as common as it used to be. If you were in a long-term marriage and you didn't work and you're near retirement age, there may be a permanent support amount, but if you are relatively young, then there usually isn't permanent support.
It's not something that's automatic or even expected the way it once used to be. That said, it still exists, and that's something that you should be aware of. Every state, of course, as always has its own circumstances in revolving permanent support. Now, there's something between temporary and permanent support that wasn't on my list that I want to jump in, is there's just what your final support amount is. So, it's just what you negotiate. It doesn't necessarily have a fancy name other than your alimony number. So, if your alimony is $1,000 a month for eight years, either paying or receiving, that's just the amount. That's not temporary, that's not permanent, that's just your amount. So, that is the alimony payment. I just want to make that distinction in there very quickly.
There's something called rehabilitative support. And it's not always known by that name, but I'm going to go through what it means because its meaning is very relevant to many of the discussions that I have, and that you may be thinking about when it comes to thinking about support and what makes sense. So, rehabilitative support is a very simple concept and that is either you or your spouse may need some additional training to get back on their feet and start earning a reasonable living after the divorce process. If they've been out of the workforce for a period of time, or if you've been out of the workforce for a period of time, it might take one, two, five years to get back on your feet or for your spouse to get back on their feet.
And so, in a rehabilitative support model, what often happens is you pay a higher amount of spousal support or receive a higher amount of spousal support for the first few years while that spouse gets their training. So, if they're going to become a paralegal, go back to college, get an advanced degree, some sort of free training, whatever the case may be. Well, you might say, "Well, I'm going to agree to a higher level of support for the first three years that person gets to get back on their feet." And then it's presumed that after those three years, they'll have their certification, they can earn a good living for themselves. And then the support amount declines or goes away or whatever it is that you negotiate. That's what's called rehabilitative support. And it's just there to allow someone to retrain and then start earning funds on their own. So, that's something to think about when it comes to support models.
The last two are lump sum and partial lump-sum support. You'll understand lump sum very clearly. A lump sum is paying all the support in one payment, instead of paying it over time or receiving all of your support in one payment, instead of receiving it over time. It's a topic I've discussed on the podcast before. If you haven't gotten the archives with all the podcast episodes, I encourage you to do that. There are some extensive details on how lump sum support can work and ways to negotiate it in that archive of all of the 200 plus podcast episodes, not all of which are public here.
But what's important about the lump sum support is let's just say, and I like to use simple numbers, you're going to be paying $1,000 a month for five years, which means you are going to be paying 12,000 a year or 60,000 over five years. A $1,000 a month is what it is. Well, the option is instead of paying 60,000 over five years, what if you just wrote a check for $60,000 and you're done paying support? There is no future support. You're separated from your spouse. You don't have to deal with at least that part of your relationship ever again.
Now, conversely, maybe you're on the receiving end. So, you're supposed to get $1,000 a month for five years, so you're supposed to receive $60,000 over five years. Well, maybe you might say, and I'm going to add a wrinkle into this example, you might say, "Well, I want all the money upfront because I don't trust my spouse or I don't want to have to deal with waiting for that monthly $1,000 every month, and I want my money now." So, you might say, "Well, just write me a check for $60,000." But maybe, I don't want to say better yet, but maybe for the sake of negotiation, you're willing to take $55,000 upfront or $50,000 upfront instead of $60,000 over five years. Something that you may want to think about. And so, that would be a lump sum.
And so, you get all your money upfront. You might not get the full value, but you get all the money today instead of, or the day your settlement is over or you come to a settlement, rather. You get all the money in one fell swoop, rather than waiting every month for that direct deposit or check to come in the mail. Now, the partial lump sum is also very simple and that is, it's not always financially feasible for people to pay all their support or alimony in a lump sum amount. It just isn't. And sometimes circumstances just won't allow that to happen. And so, what you can do in that situation is you can have what is a partial lump sum.
So, let's just say maybe you pay or receive three years upfront and then you get the rest over time, or you pay three years upfront or two years upfront and pay the rest over time. The plus side is you get a chunk of change in the short term if you're on the receiving end. The downside is your monthly payments are going to be lower going forward, but that's not really a downside mathematically. It's just a different way to negotiate the agreement. So, that's something to think about. And then sometimes that works too, where you give someone some and if you're the one paying it, you give someone, your ex-spouse, some starter money, and then they get to do that.
And then, in the long run, your payments to them on a monthly basis are much lower. So, something to think about. The reason that a partial lump-sum comes into play is that it's just another tool to have in your toolbox is it may not always be either-or. Sometimes you just can't write a check for a large support amount. It just might not be feasible. So, that's why you might do a partial lump sum. So, something to think about there. So, there are, as I said, different times, types, excuse me, of spousal support to consider. There is temporary support, permanent support. I interjected just what we call support, which is your final agreement, rehabilitative support, or money and more money in the short run for retraining, a lump sum support, and then, of course, a partial lump sum.
A lot of different options to think about when you are negotiating a potential spousal support agreement and different options really can apply really well during, rather I should say, different circumstances. And so you should think about what options may make the most sense for you and your circumstance because it's not always set in stone. There's a lot of ability for some creativity when negotiating support agreements and that creativity can help you actually get this divorce done, rather than extending the process out even further, because you're having a hard time coming to the right support agreements and what is financially feasible and acceptable for all parties involved.
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All right. Today, I want to talk about a very basic and essential topic that is worth your understanding and understanding the nuances of it, and that is spousal support. And when I talk about spousal support, I also mean alimony in there as well. Spousal support or alimony is the same term used interchangeably. Sometimes I'll refer to it as spousal support, sometimes I might say alimony, but know that they are the exact same thing. There's a lot of details that you should know about alimony or spousal support, and I want to make sure you understand the basics of it.
Let's start with just a simple definition. What it is, is a court-ordered provision of money for one spouse after divorce, or sometimes separation as well. Spousal support is a very important concept. You may be on the paying end of support, you may be on the receiving end. But oftentimes, people ask, "Well, why do I have to pay support?" or, "Shouldn't I be receiving spousal support?" And you should kind of understand why it exists. Very simply, one spouse pays the other money, usually on a semi-regular basis. And the reason it exists is that most of the time, both spouses don't have equal resources.
Usually, one spouse earns more than the other, and to make up for that difference, they have spousal support. Particularly, in a longer marriage where if you've been married for a long time, and if you're getting divorced and one spouse didn't work or barely worked part-time, that income difference can be substantial. Sometimes, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year a difference and so spousal support is there to make sure that the lower-earning spouse does not end up without any form of income after the divorce process is over.
Why it came into play, if you look up the history of spousal support, why it even exists, is actually, once upon a time, you could get divorced but oftentimes, if we are assuming traditional gender roles, the wife would be left destitute. The husband who has had some sort of profession many, many decades ago before divorce laws evolved would work the job, the wife would stay at home if you think of the traditional family as it used to be. Before spousal support, if a wife were to get divorced, the wife would have no money and they would have to start over with basically nothing. They would be destitute.
And so, spousal support was enacted by just about every state to minimize that from happening and keep that from happening in this situation of divorce, like other evolutions in divorce include no-fault divorce laws, which I've talked about on the podcast. It used to be the case where you had to prove a reason that you were getting divorced. Now you can get divorced for any reason at all in any state. Look, there are pros and cons and what not to everything, but just want to give a little bit of context there.
Now, the big question that I get asked a lot is, "How much alimony am I going to get?" And the answer to that is it depends. There are numerous factors that are considered. Now, every state has its own nuances to how spousal support is determined. Some of them, it's a little bit more formulaic. More often, it is almost just whatever you and your spouse agree to or whatever a court decides is the amount of support that's going to be paid, and there are very few guidelines. Particularly, for my California listeners... I work with a lot of people in California, a lot of people in New York... Now, I work with people everywhere but in those two states in particular people, the question is, "How much support am I going to pay?" And the answer is, well, we're going to have to figure it out and negotiate it because it's not a hard and fast rule in terms of spousal support.
So there are a lot of nuances to the spousal support question and what financial status means, and trying to give a bunch of examples is a little bit tricky because everyone's situation is different depending on state and income level and savings and earnings, et cetera. So, I won't try and dive into 50 different examples of ways spousal support might be calculated just based on the financial status question, but something to think about.
The next issue is living conditions and lifestyle. Some people who make $500,000 a year spend $600,000 a year, which means they have a lot of debt. I also know families who make $500,000 a year who spend $80,000 a year, and they save a substantial amount of money every year. The point is, is that lifestyles can vary dramatically between families. And if you are in a situation where you or your spouse doesn't spend very much money, there may be the case for lower support amounts going forward. Now, it doesn't apply in every state and every situation, but something to think about.
Earning potential, is a very important topic in terms of how the spousal support conversation can go and one that we do a lot of coaching calls around, and that is, the spouse that's receiving support, what is their educational level? Are they able to earn funds on their own? Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, or sometimes the answer is, well, after a few years, they may be able to. If you are a younger couple, let's just say, in your 40s is a good example, or younger, and you're getting divorced, it's not very realistic almost anywhere in the country to believe that the spouse who's receiving spousal support is supposed to never work again.
And so, the question becomes, what is that person's earning potential? Now, if you've never graduated college or don't have any formal education, maybe the answer is, "Well, we're going to assume you can earn a minimum wage job and that's your earning potential." But conversely, if you have a master's degree but have only been out of the workforce for three years, and you can probably get a job with a little bit of extra training or something like that, a six-figure job, then that could be factored into the spousal support calculations. So, there's a lot of question in terms of earning potential that needs to be determined by the spouse. I've also talked in the past on the podcast about vocational experts who will, if there's not an agreement about one spouse's earning potential, can come up with an agreement about earning potential and do an analysis of the spouse's possibilities in the job market. That is something that could factor into the spousal support discussion.
Age. Age is very simple. The older you are, usually the more likely that one spouse will be receiving support and also the more likely it is that that support may be longer. And, that the other spouse isn't expected to go find a high-paying job over time. Because if you're 61 and you're getting divorced and you're expecting to receive support, well, it's most likely the case that you will be receiving support for an extended spousal support for an extended period of time, and they're not expecting you to go rejoin the workforce and get a job, particularly if you've been married for a while, which also brings me to the last point, of the length of the marriage.
If you've been married for a long time, 10 years, 20 years, 25 years, 30 years or longer, the longer you have been married, the more likely you're going to receive some form of support and for a longer period of time. Now, it's not always a super clean and easy thing to figure out in terms of timing and how long and how much, but there is a correlation between the length of the marriage and the amount of support you receive. Sometimes I talk to people who've been married for three years or five years, and they want 10 years of support. That is unlikely. You will usually get paid for... Now, every state differs, some states have rules, and you should look up your state's laws, where if you've been married for over 20 years, it's automatically assumed that you're going to get support for the rest of your life. In other states, it's a fraction of the time. But one of the things to think about is how long you've been married and how much support you'll receive.
For planning purposes, I use an estimate. If the state doesn't have a law, I usually estimate around a third to a half of the time you've been married for support for planning purposes, both for the payer and for the person receiving. So if you've been married for 10 years, I assume usually somewhere between three and five years of spousal support. Now, every situation is completely different. But if I were doing just a rough guess, a rough calculation, someone were to come to me and say, "Here's the support agreement that's on the table. The state doesn't really have any real guidelines," if it's somewhere in that third to a half of the amount of time you've been married, assuming the couples are younger so meaning, excuse me, early 50s at the latest, but usually 40s or 30s, that would strike me as a reasonable amount of time. But as I said, every situation is different.
In the next episodes, I want to discuss some new other nuances of spousal support such as the different types of support, and what special circumstances may exist where spousal support might be longer or unchangeable, and some of the pros and cons of those different options.