Awarding Alimony and Support

Don’t military spouses have a special requirement to support their families?

Yes. Because of the possibility for separation, both because of marital difficulties or also because of geographical separations due to deployment or assignments, the armed services have a special concern that family members continue to receive adequate financial support. If there is a court order for child support or spousal support, a servicemember’s obligation to support his or her family is likely clearly spelled out there. If no order is in place, each branch has implemented policies to ensure that geographically separated family members receive financial support from servicemember-spouses. These policies will usually only apply if a court order or written agreement does not already exist.

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How do the branches define the “family-members” I might have to support?

Each branch defines “family members” differently. It is likely at the very least, any current spouses and minor children (both of the current marriage and former marriages or children born out of wedlock and adopted children).

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How does the military decide how much support to order?

How each branch determines support obligations vary. The amount of support that will be ordered is often connected to the servicemember’s pay grade or rank. To get a better sense of how obligations would be set in your case, talk to your legal assistance attorney.

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Will this be in addition to whatever alimony the court orders?

Likely no. If the court orders alimony, the family support provision probably will not apply. Again, these policies usually only apply when a written agreement or court-ordered alimony does not already exist.

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What is alimony and maintenance? How are they different?

Alimony is also known as maintenance or spousal support. Regardless of the name, it is money paid from one spouse to another for day-to-day support. It is important to understand that alimony is separate and distinct from child support. You may be ordered to pay one or both, but each is determined separately and based on different legal factors.

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Does a court always award alimony to the wife?

No. A court will order alimony on the basis of one spouse’s need and the other spouse’s ability to pay. Although many alimony payments are made from men to women, it is possible that a woman could be required to pay support to her economically dependent husband. Alimony is awarded less often now than it was in the past, because today there are more two-income couples and fewer marriages in which one person is financially dependent on the other.

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My (soon-to-be-ex) wife cheated on me. I won't have to pay her alimony, correct?

You might have to. Alimony isn’t awarded to punish one side or reward the other; the court will only look to the financial situations of both spouses. Generally, fault is not considered when determining either alimony or property division.

Speaking of cheating, as an injured spouse, you may be tempted to contact your cheating spouse’s commander to “get him/her in trouble.” Before doing so, you should seek legal advice because getting your spouse in trouble may backfire because it could lead to your spouse being demoted or kicked out of the military and therefore unable to provide support to you and any children the two of you may have.

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I will be receiving alimony from my former wife. Will I have to pay taxes on it like I would a pay check?

Yes, potentially. If one spouse is paying support to the other, the payer can deduct that money from his or her income for tax purposes. The payment will then be considered taxable income to the recipient. If the parties can agree that the payments will be not deductable for the payer, the recipient will not have to pay taxes on the payments.

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My former spouse and I lived in South Carolina when we got divorced and the court awarded me alimony. He has since moved to New York. Will he still have to pay my alimony?

Yes (assuming any time limits on the order haven’t expired). All states recognize the alimony orders of another state.

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How much alimony will the court award?

It depends. Unlike child support where, in most states, the legislatures have set guidelines for courts to follow when awarding support, courts usually have more leeway when awarding alimony. Generally, courts will look at the difference between the dependent spouse’s reasonable monthly needs and his or her current net income. The difficulty will come when determining what are “reasonable needs.” Chances are good that food and shelter will be reasonable, but eating out at 5-star restaurants and living in a 6-bedroom condo on Madison Avenue in New York City will not be.

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When does alimony end?

There are a couple of options: first, alimony will end at either party’s death or upon a date the parties agree to. Beyond that, if the alimony is awarded for a specific purpose, that will dictate when it ends.

If the alimony is for rehabilitative support, meaning that it is meant to enable the dependent spouse to get an education or job training so that he or she can become self-supporting, the payments will only be for a limited time. If the alimony is for permanent support, meaning that it is to provide support for a spouse who cannot become economically independent, the level of support may change if the ability of payer or the needs of the recipient change. For example, such support might end if the recipient remarries or begins to live with someone else.

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My husband and I have agreed that neither side should have to pay alimony. Is that okay?

Yes. But make sure it is specified in your divorce or separation agreement. (In legal terms, the spouse who is eligible for support is “waiving” his or her right to alimony.)

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