Spousal support – also referred to commonly as “alimony” or “spousal maintenance” in many places – refers to support given by one former spouse to another for the purpose of maintaining financial stability or facilitating self-sufficiency.
When people marry, they often come into the marriage with differing educational or financial circumstances.
What’s more, in many marriages, only one spouse works and earn income, or one spouse may earn considerably more income than the other spouse.
In order to ensure that one spouse is able to remain financially stable, or embark toward achieving self-sufficiency, sometimes spousal support is necessary.
In this post, we will provide an in-depth discussion of spousal support assessment and calculation here in the State of Maine. We will discuss the “five types” of spousal support in Maine, the qualifications of support, methods of payment, modification process, and the calculation process.
Spousal support is among the most contentious aspects of divorce. Many people see spousal support as an archaic thing, something of a remnant from a bygone era in which women tended to not work outside the home.
Others feel that, whatever its pedigree, spousal support disincentivizes thrift and initiative at the expense of spouse providing the support. The controversy will likely persist for as long as spousal support is available.
As mentioned, spousal support refers to financial support given by one former spouse to another in order to help the recipient spouse remain financially stable or attain financial self-sufficiency.
Some types of spousal support are in place longer than others; spousal support orders can also vary widely in their amount. Simply put, courts in Maine customize and tailor spousal support orders to accomplish specific goals and to meet the needs of specific situations. Courts have wide latitude in this way.
There are five types of spousal support in the State of Maine. These five types of support are awarded under different circumstances and are intended to fulfill different purposes. These types of support are referenced in Title 19-A, § 951-A of the Maine Revised Statutes.
The five types of support are as follows:
General spousal support is among the least commonly awarded types of support because it can only be granted to spouses who were married for 10 years or more.
Furthermore, this type of support can only be granted if the intended recipient spouse has health conditions, disabilities or other issues which prevent them from becoming financially self-sufficient.
This limits the availability of this support.
What’s more, general support is restricted to a maximum of half the length of the marriage. So, for a marriage which lasts 10 years, the recipient spouse can only be eligible for the support for 5 years.
Transitional spousal support – also commonly referred to as “rehabilitative support” in many cases – refers to support which is granted on a temporary basis while the recipient spouse takes the steps necessary to become self-sufficient.
Transitional support occurs when, at the time of the divorce, one spouse lacks the ability to maintain a reasonable standard of living independently.
As mentioned, marriages often involve spouses who have differing educational, economic or employment backgrounds. It’s common for one spouse to earn significantly more than the other spouse.
Transitional support, therefore, is necessary until the lower-earning spouse has the ability to become self-sufficient. In some cases, this may involve one spouse acquiring additional education or professional skills.
Whatever the case may be, transitional support is temporary by its nature, and will be removed once self-sufficiency is achieved.
Reimbursement spousal support is quite a bit different than these two previous types.
Courts will impose reimbursement support in cases involving either financial misconduct from one spouse, or repayment of one spouse’s economic contributions during the marriage.
Financial misconduct might involve something such as gambling with marital funds. This aspect of reimbursement support is noteworthy because this is an example of the court using spousal support as an ethical tool.
Common examples of repayment of economic contributions include things such as one spouse paying for the other spouse’s education or career development.
Interim support refers to support granted during the divorce process itself. The divorce process can often be a long and difficult ordeal, and sometimes one spouses needs immediate financial assistance in order to stay stable during this period.
Courts may award interim support in these circumstances. Interim support only lasts for the duration of the divorce process and is then immediately terminated as soon as the divorce is finished.
Nominal support is only given as a form of preliminary support which will be modified in the future. For instance, occasionally courts will award one spouse a small amount – say, $10 – of support with the intention of returning to the matter and modifying the support order in the near future.
The nominal support is therefore a kind of placeholder which stands in until a more complete support order can be developed.
As we noted earlier, these different types of spousal support are meant to serve different purposes.
We can see that there can be a wide range of circumstances involved in divorces, and so our courts have developed support orders to respond to these different circumstances.
Some of these types of support are much more common than others, but it’s still useful to be aware of all types of support.
In the State of Maine, either spouse may qualify for support; spousal support is not gender-dependent, and so there is no requirement that only women are able to qualify for support.
If taken on a sheer statistical basis, women are more likely to be recipients of spousal support, but this is merely the result of circumstances and not law.
Statistically, women may be more likely to reduce hours in order to focus on childcare, or to contribute toward their spouse’s education or career in one way or another. These factors contribute to more women being spousal support recipients than men in Maine.
To qualify for spousal support, a Maine judge must identify that there is a need for such support. And this need is established by conducting a global analysis of a given situation.
In other words, a judge will examine a given case and determine whether there are enough factors to conclude that a need for support exists.
Factors which have been known to carry weight in previous cases are things such as: the length of the marriage, income history of each spouse, earning potential of each spouse, educational background and employability of each spouse, each spouse’s ability to pay support, contributions to the household during the marriage, contributions to the other spouse’s education or career, the recipient spouse’s potential for becoming self-sufficient, and any other factors that the court considers significant.
In every spousal support order, a Maine judge will include how the payments will be made and how long the support will last.
In other words, the court order will specify both the method and the duration of the support.
As with other aspects of support orders, the method and duration can be customized to meet the particular needs of a given situation.
In the majority of cases, support orders will require regular installment payments, which means that the payor will make periodic payments over a period of time.
And, also in most cases, regular installment payments will be made directly from a payor’s paycheck.
Just as federal income taxes and payroll taxes are withheld from an employee’s paycheck, a Maine judge can order spousal support to be withheld from the payor’s paycheck.
This ensures that the payments will always be made in full and on time. In such cases, the payor’s employer receives a copy of the support order with instructions to withhold and send the funds to the court.
Maine courts can also direct payor’s to make lump sum payments rather than regular installment payments.
This might happen when a recipient spouse is currently unemployed and needs to acquire professional skills before becoming employable.
Or, it may also happen when a payor spouse is self-employed, and the court therefore doesn’t have the option of withholding funds directly from the payor’s regular paycheck.
Just as with installment payments, lump sum payments can be used to address the needs of a particular case.
Just as life is far from static, spousal support orders may be changed or modified after they’ve been put into place. There are circumstances which can compel a judge to modify or even terminate an existing order.
The first step in the modification process is to seek a formal review. If you believe that the current circumstances warrant modification, then you need to petition the court for an official review.
A Maine judge will review the order in relation to the current circumstances and then make a determination regarding modification.
What are some common reasons which compel modification? In the State of Maine, judges can modify orders as justice requires. In practice, this can mean different things in different situations.
However, there are some reasons which tend to arise more often than others.
For instance, if the recipient spouse increases his or her income, this may be grounds for modification.
Or, if a recipient spouse suddenly improves his or her health, this may also warrant modification. There are some situations which will automatically result in the termination of a support order.
If either the payor or recipient spouse dies, the order is terminated; also, if the recipient spouse remarries or cohabitates for a period of 12 consecutive months, then the order is terminated.
Some states have a spousal support “formula” or fixed system which they use to calculate the amount of support in every instance.
The State of Maine doesn’t use such a formula or system, but instead relies upon the discretion of judges following a rigorous case-by-case analysis.
After determining whether a given situation requires spousal support, a Maine judge will proceed to examine the level of need in the case. Each case has its own circumstances and therefore requires its own customized amount.
Consider the following situation: a former Maine couple lives in a particularly high cost area.
One former spouse, the wife, was unemployed for a period of five years just before the end of the marriage. She was a homemaker and took care of the couple’s two children.
The husband earned a high income throughout the marriage and at the time of the divorce.
The wife will need time to acquire skills in order to provide a reasonable standard of living for herself and the children.
Neither spouse has any health problems, and the marriage lasted for 8 years.
In this situation, the Maine judge will likely order transitional spousal support and include a fairly high amount. The reason is because the recipient spouse lives in an expensive area and needs to acquire skills to become employable.
This will likely involve some form of higher education. The Maine judge will ultimately terminate the order after the recipient spouse manages to obtain adequate employment.
We should be sure to indicate that failing to pay spousal support is a serious offense.
The consequences of failing to pay a legitimate support order can be quite severe. For instance, if you fail to pay, you can be charged with contempt of court, and you can be required to pay fines or have a lien placed on real estate or other property.
In some more severe cases, you can even be incarcerated.
We hope that this serves as a useful overview of spousal support assessment and calculation here in Maine. As you can see, there is quite a lot to the topic of spousal support.
There is more to know, and so those who have questions should contact our firm right away. Keep in mind that all spousal support orders are created by referencing the specific facts and circumstances of a given case.
It’s not possible to determine with 100% accuracy from the outset whether spousal support will be ordered for a given case.
Everything requires an analysis by the court. However, given our experience, we can help project the outcome if we are aware of the details of your case.
The attorneys at The Maine Divorce Group understand how emotional and complex the divorce process can be and we are here to help.
Call to speak with a member of our team today, who can discuss your case and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys.
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