ALIMONY (SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE)
Alimony – called “spousal maintenance” in Vermont – is an amount of money that one former spouse must pay to the other during or after the divorce. Usually this is a monthly payment. The idea is that a spouse with more income or more assets should help the former spouse maintain his or her standard of living as much as possible, at least long enough for the former spouse to become financially independent.
There are two kinds of spousal maintenance.
Rehabilitative Spousal Maintenance - This is usually for a short period of time while the former spouse finds a job or gets some training for the job market.
Compensatory Spousal Maintenance - This is designed to compensate the former spouse for time out of the workforce while she or he was caring for the children or taking care of the household. Compensatory spousal maintenance usually lasts a lot longer than rehabilitative maintenance.
What’s the difference between rehabilitative and compensatory maintenance? There really isn’t any practical difference. What is important is how much spousal maintenance is owed and for how long.
There are guidelines in Vermont for spousal maintenance.
It used to be very hard to predict what a judge will think is fair in your case. One guidepost, though, is the length of the marriage. If it lasted for fifteen years or more (a “long term” marriage), the judge is likely to order spousal maintenance for a significant amount of time – maybe until the paying spouse retires. If it is less than fifteen years, it seems that most orders last about one-third of the length of the marriage. So if you were married for ten years, and one of you makes significantly more money than the other, the spousal maintenance order will probably last for about three to four years.
How much will spousal maintenance be?
While there are no hard and fast rules about this, there are guidelines that the judge will likely use. A rule of thumb is that the award will be about 30% of the difference your incomes. If you make $30,000 and your spouse makes $90,000, the order will probably be about $20,000 per year - one third of the $60,000 difference in your income. That would come out to about $1,667 per month.
You can use the handy alimony estimator on this website here.
If there is a spousal maintenance award, it can be changed by a judge later if your circumstances change. In other words, if you or your former spouse have a major change in your life (such as a better paying job, or the loss of a job), the judge can increase or decrease the amount of the spousal maintenance order. However, if there is no spousal maintenance order at all, the judge cannot make an order for it after the divorce is final! Sometimes, I have my client’s get an award of $1 per year, just so that it can be changed later on if the other party starts making more money.