Common Alimony Myths in Utah
Alimony, also called “spousal support,” is one of the most misunderstood aspects of divorce. People may have an idea about how alimony in Utah works, but are often surprised to find out that they have bought into an alimony myth. If you find that you believed one of the following common alimony myths, don’t feel bad; you’re hardly alone!
Alimony Myth #1: Nobody Gets Alimony Anymore.
It’s true that alimony isn’t as common as it used to be, partly because both spouses in a marriage often work and therefore may not need alimony to support themselves after a divorce. Alimony is awarded in about 10% of marriages in the United States these days. But even back in the 1960s, when far fewer women worked outside the home, only about 25% of divorces involved an alimony award.
Alimony Myth #2: Only Women Get Alimony.
It’s true that the great majority of alimony recipients are women, but that doesn’t mean that only women receive alimony. In fact, the percentage of men who receive alimony has risen significantly in the past few decades—from less than 0.5% in 2000, according to the U.S. Census, to about 3% in 2010. Figures from the 2020 Census are not yet available, but there’s no reason to believe the trend has reversed, especially since 40% of American households have a female breadwinner at the helm.
Alimony Myth #3: Once You Get Alimony, You’re Set for Life
When alimony is awarded, it is usually not a truly permanent award. Alimony in Utah is awarded based on the need of the spouse who would be receiving it, and then on the other spouse’s ability to pay. The goal is for the alimony recipient to be able to maintain roughly the same standard of living as during the marriage. But a lot depends on the circumstances.
In a long-term marriage with older spouses, in which one was the breadwinner throughout the marriage and the other took care of the house and family, long-term alimony is much more likely. In a shorter-term marriage with younger spouses, the lower-earning spouse could probably go back to work and become self-supporting (even if some training was required to do so). In that case, if alimony was awarded, it would probably be for a limited time to help the recipient get back on their feet financially. In any case, Utah courts, with extremely rare exceptions, will not award alimony for a period longer than the duration of the marriage.
Alimony, even combined with child support, is almost never enough to put a recipient on Easy Street. Most people have to work even when they are receiving financial support after divorce.
Alimony Myth #4: Fault Doesn’t Matter in Alimony Determinations.
Utah is a no-fault divorce state, which means that neither party has to allege or prove misconduct in order to file for divorce in the state. But that doesn’t mean that fault is irrelevant. Utah Code 30-3-5(10)(b) specifically states that a court can consider fault on the part of one of the parties in determining whether to award alimony and the terms of that alimony. If necessary when fault is at issue in an alimony dispute, the court can seal the court records to protect the parties’ privacy.
Alimony Myth #4: Alimony Only Ends on Death or Remarriage.
It’s true that alimony terminates when the recipient dies or remarries. But those are not the only circumstances in which spousal support ends. Alimony will end whenever the divorce decree provides for it to do so. That might be after a certain period of time, or upon the happening of a certain event.
Alimony in Utah also terminates if the recipient is cohabiting with a partner, whether during the divorce or afterward. However, the spouse or ex-spouse paying alimony needs to establish the cohabitation and get a court order terminating alimony before they can stop making payments. And even if the recipient stops living with the partner, the payor can still get the alimony terminated if they can prove the cohabitation. In other words, don’t expect alimony payments from an ex-spouse to feather your nest with a new partner.
Alimony Myth #5: Alimony is Tax-Deductible to the Person Paying It.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this myth is fact, because it was for a long time. Unfortunately for spouses and ex-spouses paying alimony, federal tax reform changed the tax status of alimony. For divorces finalized after December 31, 2018, and orders modifying alimony after that date, alimony payments are no longer tax-deductible to the payor and taxable as income to the payee. That’s good news if you’re receiving alimony, but not such good news if you’re paying it.
Alimony Myth #6: If You Receive Child Support, You Won’t Get Alimony.
Child support and alimony are two separate calculations. It’s quite common for people to receive both child support and alimony. Child support is intended to provide the necessities of life for the couple’s children. Since those necessities include things like housing, utilities, food, and transportation, child support payments often incidentally help the parent with whom the child lives. An ex-spouse may not need as much alimony as they otherwise would if they are also receiving child support.
Alimony Myth #7: Alimony in Utah is Totally Up to the Court.
Courts in Utah can award alimony even if one party doesn’t want to pay it. But most commonly, spouses agree on the amount, duration, and other terms of alimony in a settlement. Remember, well over 90% of divorces don’t go to trial, which means the spouses reach agreement on all the terms, including alimony.
Divorcing couples who reach agreement regarding alimony can agree to terms that a court would not otherwise order. For instance, the divorcing spouses can agree that an award of alimony will not be modifiable, even if the parties’ financial situation changes. A court will not order non-modifiable alimony if the couple doesn’t agree to it.
You may also be interested in: