Alimony, sometimes referred to as spousal support, is the court-ordered allowance that one party pays to the other party for support while they are separated, in the process of getting divorced, or after they are divorced.
Either the husband or the wife may ask the court for alimony. Alimony may be awarded temporarily while the case is pending or for a longer period after the divorce has been granted.
The court may consider the following and other factors when deciding whether to award alimony:
- The financial condition and needs of the party who would receive alimony. This includes the recipient's monthly debts and obligations, and their ability to pay these debts.
- The recipient's earning capacity or ability to produce income. This includes past employment history, ability or inability to work and income received from all sources, including passive income. This also includes the impact of diminished workplace experience resulting from primarily caring for a child of the paying spouse.
- The ability of the paying spouse to provide support. This includes income from all sources weighed against their debts and obligations. As a general rule, debts may not be incurred to defeat alimony.
- The length of the marriage, meaning the number of years from the day on which the parties are legally married to the day on which the petition for divorce is filed with the court. The longer the marriage, the stronger the case for alimony.
- Whether the recipient party has custody of minor children who need support.
- Whether the recipient worked in a business owned or operated by the other spouse.
- Whether the recipient contributed to increase the other spouse's skill by paying for their education or by allowing them to attend school during the marriage.
- The court may also consider the fault of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and its terms. "Fault" means any of the following conduct during the marriage that substantially contributed to the breakup of the marriage:
- engaging in sexual relations with a person other than the party's spouse;
- knowingly and intentionally causing or attempting to cause physical harm to the other party or a child;
- knowingly and intentionally causing the other party or a child to reasonably fear life-threatening harm; or
- substantially undermining the financial stability of the other party or the child.
Generally, in determining alimony, the court considers the parties' standard of living at the time of separation. In short marriages with no children, the court may consider the standard of living when the marriage began. Sometimes, the court will try to equalize the parties' standards of living.
The court may not order alimony for a period longer than the length of the marriage, unless there are special reasons for doing so, which a party can raise with the court at any time before the alimony order ends ("before the termination of alimony" is the language in the bill). In counting the length of the award of alimony, you include the period of time the party pays temporary alimony before the final divorce decree is entered by the court.
If, during a divorce or separation case, a spouse requests or is receiving temporary alimony, and the other spouse establishes that the recipient is cohabiting with another person, the court cannot order temporary alimony and must terminate any order of temporary alimony.
Alimony automatically terminates upon the remarriage or death of the recipient unless the decree of divorce says otherwise. (There are exceptions for if the remarriage of the alimony recipient is annulled.)
Alimony also terminates if the recipient cohabits with another person after the order for alimony is issued, but the other spouse cannot just stop paying alimony. They must first prove the cohabitation to the court. Cohabit means to live together, or to reside together on a regular basis, in the same residence and in a relationship of a romantic or sexual relationship.
A motion to terminate alimony for cohabitation must be filed no later than one year from the day on which the party knew or should have known that the former spouse has cohabited with another person. The party asking the court to terminate alimony does not need to prove that the former spouse was cohabiting on the date they file their motion to terminate alimony.
If there have been substantial material changes in circumstances not foreseeable at the time of divorce, either party may petition the court for an order modifying alimony. However, the court may not modify alimony to address needs of the recipient that did not exist at the time the decree was entered, unless there are special reasons for doing so.
Regardless of whether a party's retirement is foreseeable, the party's retirement is a substantial material change in circumstances that is subject to a petition to modify alimony, unless the divorce decree expressly states otherwise.
For more information, see our page on Modification of a Divorce Decree.
If the party ordered to pay alimony fails to do so, the recipient may file a motion asking the court to enforce the alimony order. The court may issue a judgment for past due alimony. The court may also find a party in contempt of court and order the party to pay a fine or serve time in jail. For information and forms, see our webpage on Motion to Enforce Domestic Order (Order to Show Cause).
Before an alimony order from another state can be enforced or modified it first must be registered in Utah. For information and forms, see our webpage on Registering a Foreign Order.