Of course, the simplest way to avoid taking on another adult as your effective dependent for life is not to marry. However, for those inclined to enter into the legal relationship of marriage, the possibility of alimony will always be lingering in the background.
In every state, when two people marry, they are entering into a legal relationship. This relationship places on each spouse a duty to support each other during the marriage. It also may bring with it a duty to provide continued financial support after the marriage ends.
Whether alimony is paid and, what amount, is governed by state law. As a result, we’ll discuss some general principles that may allow you to get out of paying alimony.
This article will discuss an approach you may take to get out of paying alimony, starting with avoiding it altogether. If that is not a possibility, you may consider the other suggestions set forth herein, which have to do with how to stop paying alimony or at least reduce its amount.
Step 1: Avoid alimony completely
The easiest way to avoid paying alimony at all is not to get married. Without marriage, there is no relationship upon which to place a duty of mutual support. However, in most states, couples can often avoid paying alimony by agreeing that alimony will not be paid. This may be done through a premarital agreement, a postnuptial agreement, or a settlement agreement.
The first potential opportunity to get out of paying alimony is a premarital agreement, which is an agreement made before marriage in which the spouses make decisions about how issues like alimony will be handled if they get divorced later. Premarital agreements are only valid when both spouses make full disclosures to each other about what they own and how much money they make. Every state also places additional requirements on premarital agreements before they are considered valid. For example, common requirements include that premarital agreements must be in writing and must be signed. In addition, the couple must have had an opportunity to consult with an independent attorney before executing the agreement. Also, in most states, the agreement must have been fair at the time it was negotiated. Obviously, this is an issue that a judge must generally determine during a divorce.
If you are already married, you may still have an opportunity to avoid alimony altogether. Many states also recognized postnuptial agreements, which tend to be very similar to premarital agreements. The main difference is that they are executed after the marriage has already taken place.
And finally, if divorce is imminent, you may be able to negotiate not paying alimony in an agreement with your spouse. For example, you may decide to give your spouse a larger percentage of property, such as houses, cars, and bank balances, in exchange for not having to pay alimony. You might also attempt to negotiate a lump sum alimony payment, in which you pay one significant sum to your spouse and then do not pay again. Settlement agreements must be approved by a court before they become effective.
Whether you choose a prenuptial agreement, a postnuptial agreement, or a settlement agreement, it is important that you consult with an experienced family law attorney in your state. These attorneys have deep experience in divorce law and are able to help you negotiate an agreement that will work best at meeting your goals.
Step 2: End alimony you are already paying
If you are already paying alimony, your options are more limited. There are generally two ways you can get out of paying out alimony you have been ordered to pay: (1) meeting conditions in the court’s order or (2) meeting conditions in state law.
The court order requiring you to pay alimony should set forth the circumstances under which alimony will terminate. For example, you may be required to pay alimony only for a set period of time, which is what happens with temporary alimony or rehabilitative alimony. Both are, by their nature, limited to a particular period of time. For that reason, it’s important that you know what the court order says about when alimony terminates. In the case of permanent alimony, for example, it may only terminate when the spouse receiving alimony dies or remarries or when the spouse paying alimony passes away.
If you cannot meet the conditions set forth in the court’s order, you should consult with an attorney about whether you might be able to meet the legal standard for having alimony terminated in your state. In most states, you must show a material change or a substantial change in circumstances. Examples of things that might meet that standard include being laid off or becoming very ill or disabled. One important thing to know is that you cannot intentionally reduce your income to try to get out of paying alimony. If you do, the court has the power to “impute” income to you. This means that you will have to pay alimony based on the amount the judge you should be able to earn even if you do not make that much money. Clearly, this can lead to a significant shortfall in your budget and should be avoided at all costs. You may also be held in contempt of court, which can lead to jail time, and you may have to pay a fine.
Step 3: Reduce the amount of alimony you pay
If you cannot get out of paying alimony entirely, you may be able to reduce the amount of money you pay to your ex-spouse. The legal standard for this is usually that circumstances have changed substantially or materially. For example, perhaps you cannot work as many hours because you have to take ongoing medical treatments. Or maybe your ex-spouse has received a significant promotion, while you were demoted due to no fault of your own. In circumstances like these, a judge may find that the circumstances have changed enough so that you should not have to pay as much alimony.
If you’re looking to get out of paying alimony, your best bet is to hire an experienced family lawyer in your state. These attorneys know how to best frame the issues for the court to get you the best shot at getting out of paying alimony or having the amount reduced.