“Permanent” sounds so, well, permanent—unchangeable. And in the case of alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, “permanent” generally does mean unchangeable. For the person paying alimony, it can feel like a life sentence; the person receiving the payments, however, can feel the payments are a godsend. But just how permanent is permanent, really?
When does permanent alimony end
Boiled down to its essentials, in most states, when a court orders a person to pay permanent alimony, it means that it is paid periodically, usually monthly, until one of the two following things happen. First, if one of the ex-spouses passes away, permanent alimony will usually end. In addition, permanent alimony usually ends when the ex-spouse receiving the payments remarries. In some states, permanent alimony will also end when the receiving spouse lives with someone else in a marriage-like relationship.
Permanent alimony used to be awarded with some regularity. However, with more women entering the workforce and earning better salaries, permanent alimony is not awarded as frequently as it once was. And even when it is awarded, it is subject to modification if circumstances change significantly.
Instead of permanent alimony, other types of alimony are gaining steam in the United States. For example, in most states, the law allows courts to award temporary alimony, for a set period of time. A judge may also choose to award what is called “rehabilitative alimony.” These types of alimony are generally designed to allow the receiving spouse to get back on his or her feet. For example, the judge may decide to award alimony long enough for one of the spouses to obtain a college degree, thus increasing his or her employability and earning potential.
A court may also choose to award lump sum alimony rather than permanent alimony. With a lump sum award, the paying spouse gives a single lump sum amount to the other spouse for alimony. Lump sum alimony can be preferred by courts because it doesn’t keep a couple financially tied together, thus removing the burden of continuing to deal with one another in the future.
Misuses of alimony
Some people feel that permanent alimony provides wrong incentives to both of the spouses. These individuals argue that people charged with paying permanent alimony have less of an incentive to work hard to gain promotions and pay raises because they may lose some of their hard-earned money to their ex-spouses. Similarly, people who believe permanent alimony is a bad idea argue that the ex-spouse receiving the payments has no incentive to go get an education, get a promotion, or work hard to increase his or her own income.
In many states, permanent alimony is rarely awarded. However, several states still keep permanent alimony laws in their books. If you live in one of these states and are going through a divorce, it is critical that you speak with an experienced divorce lawyer who can help you frame the important issues for the judge in your case. Whether you want to avoid paying permanent alimony or you want to receive permanent alimony, your best chance is working with an experienced family lawyer in your geographical area.