Chances are that you have heard the word alimony come up in a conversation with someone who’s discussing divorce. Today we’ll talk about what alimony is, how it’s decided and who qualifies for it.

Alimony is a court ordered payment from one former spouse to another so that one person isn’t left destitute after a marriage has ended. The concept of alimony dates back hundreds of years, when it was created to ensure that the woman, who had very few opportunities for meaningful employment at the time, didn’t fall into poverty because she no longer had a husband. However, over time, alimony has evolved to be more in line with today’s society, and it is not solely awarded to the woman. Alimony today is also not an automatic part of a divorce like it was in years past. Now, in order to receive alimony, or spousal support as it’s also called, one or both parties will need to formally request it and have it approved by the court. Obviously, the ideal scenario would be to have the alimony agreement already settled by each party when petitioning the court, although since that isn’t always possible, the case can go to trial, where a judge will decide.

Now that we’ve established what alimony is, let’s discuss who qualifies for it and how long it lasts after a divorce. Although there are different laws regarding spousal support depending on which state the divorce is filed in, there are some general guidelines they all share.

Up until the last half century, men were almost always the primary “breadwinners” in a marriage and the woman stayed home to care for the children and manage any duties related to the cleaning and upkeep of the family home. Even now, women tend to be the one’s to give up their career when they start a family, plus they often make less than their male counterparts to begin with, which is why it’s still much more common for the woman to be the one to request and receive alimony. However, as women are slowly gaining more equality in the workforce, there are increasing instances of the male being the person requesting spousal support in a divorce.

Although there are different lengths of time that alimony can be awarded for after a divorce, only in extremely rare cases will the spouse be granted spousal support for a period of time that exceeds the length of the marriage. For example, if the marriage lasted five years, then alimony is generally only paid for a maximum of five years, with the exceptions being if the spouse receiving it is permanently disabled or is caring for a disabled child, or if the spouse is old and/or in very poor health. The most common scenario is that alimony is paid until the person receiving it has enough time to get back on their feet financially, including being able to obtain sufficient training, education or work experience if need be in order for them to become self-supporting.

When the court decides how much alimony should be paid, they will look at several different factors. How long the couple was married is one of the first things they consider. The court will also try to establish the earning capacities of each party, plus how much time they would need to prepare for and find employment if they weren’t working during the marriage. The contributions each person made to the marriage, both financially and by supporting the family by performing any domestic duties related to the home, including caring for children if there are any involved are also analyzed. After all of these various components are evaluated, the court will calculate an alimony figure to award. Although judges in some states are given more discretion when assigning values used to establish how much alimony to award, most states have preset formulas that are used.

As previously mentioned, since there are different laws related to spousal support depending on the state from which the person is filing for divorce from, it’s important to know the laws in your state if and when you petition the court to award you alimony. The best way to do this is by enlisting the help of a qualified attorney in your area. They will be able to guide you through the process and answer any questions you may have.

If you are one of the people who’s fortunate to be going through the divorce process amicably with your spouse, then using an online platform like www.thequickdivorce.com (TQD) is a great option, as it is much cheaper and faster than going the traditional route of hiring attorneys to handle all of the paperwork for you. TQD forms are all customizable to fit your specific needs, and make the divorce a quicker and less stressful process for all involved. TQD is unique in that we also offer attorney assistance if you need any help along the way. TQD’s founding attorney, Aliette H. Carolan, Esq., has specialized exclusively in Marital and Family law in the state of Florida for nearly twenty years.

Deciding that it’s time to end your marriage is often a painful and difficult choice. However, going through the legal process doesn't have to be.

We’ve all heard the words ‘annulment’ and ‘divorce’, but how do they differ from one another? Today we will discuss each term, and learn what the differences are between them. While both an annulment and a divorce are legal procedures that end with the same result of dissolution of a marriage, that is really the only thing they have in common.

An annulment is a legal procedure through which a marriage is declared null and void, or to put it in layman’s terms, the couple was never married. There are certain requirements that must be met in order to have a marriage annulled, and meeting them can be difficult, so going that route isn’t always an option. Some examples of the types of situations for which you could request that your marriage be annulled are if the marriage was the result of being coerced, if your spouse is unable to have children and knowingly lied to you about it before you married, if your spouse was legally married to someone else when they married you, if one or both of you were under the age of legal consent when you got married, if one of you wasn’t of sound mind when you married due to being under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a mental disorder, if you are too closely related to one another to legally marry, or if the marriage was never consummated due to a physical disability. With that being said, each state has its own requirements and specific grounds that can be used to request an annulment, so if you’re considering this option, researching and understanding your state’s specific laws regarding marriage annulment is important. Even though most annulments happen within the first year or two of marriage, there are many states that don’t have a statute of limitations in place limiting the time you have to file for an annulment, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Some other key differences between annulments and divorces are that prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are typically invalidated when a marriage is annulled, as both are legal agreements that apply to marriages, which in the eyes of the courts never happened. Additionally, neither you or your partner would be entitled to any money or assets that were made or obtained by the other one during the marriage.

Now let’s discuss what a divorce is. When filing for divorce, the couple is wanting to end their marriage, and thus must go through the legal procedure of having the court dissolve it. During this procedure, the court will formalize all issues related to the divorce, including the division of assets and property that were accumulated during the marriage, the division of any debt, finalizing any spousal support that was negotiated, plus child custody and child support if there are any children involved.

One key way that divorces differ from annulments is that since the vast majority of divorces are filed as “no fault”, there are no particular requirements that need to be met in order for the divorce to be granted. Additionally, since there are marital assets, property and debt to be divided in a divorce, as well as any spousal and child support, the process usually takes longer to complete than an annulment does. It also typically costs more, as both your and your partner’s attorneys are spending more of their time and resources on negotiating agreements and filing the necessary paperwork with the court system.

When deciding whether to request that your marriage be annulled or to file for divorce, it is wise to consult a divorce attorney who is familiar with the laws in your state.

If you conclude that filing for a divorce is the route you need to take in order to legally dissolve your marriage, you will then need to decide if you need an attorney to handle the negotiations and paperwork filing with the courts. If the divorce is simple and straightforward enough, you may be able to use an online platform such as www.thequickdivorce.com to handle the creation and submission of the required paperwork for the court system in your state.

Dealing with the dissolution of your marriage or long term relationship is difficult enough in and of itself, but when there are children involved, it becomes even trickier, as you always want what’s best for your child, and don’t want to cause them any further or unnecessary trauma. It’s extremely important to minimize your child’s exposure to parental discord. It’s best if they don’t witness any extreme conflict between their parents, nor should they be forced to pick sides or become a confidante. The impact on a child’s psyche from such things cannot only be utterly devastating, but can also result in lifelong trauma that affects every future relationship they have as an adult.

Research shows that children of divorce fare better if their parents limit the conflict associated with the divorce process. Conversely, children who experience high levels of parental conflict before and after the divorce are associated with poorer adjustment. Even if there isn’t a formal/ legal marriage certificate, as long as there are children involved, you and the child’s other parent are always going to be involved in each other’s lives for the sake of your child.

One way of helping to minimize the inevitable emotional distress for your child is to try and focus on the positive aspects that the impending divorce will result in. For example, when explaining the upcoming divorce to young children, telling them that their parents living in separate households means that they’ll get to celebrate special occasions like birthdays and holidays such as Christmas or Hanukkah twice - once with each parent. It also means that they’ll have two places to call home. For older children, you can explain that this will be a new beginning for both parents, and although it might take some time to adjust, eventually everyone will be much happier, and your child won’t have to deal with their parents being stressed, unhappy or fighting with each other.

The ability to file for divorce online is another tool that can help alleviate the stress and emotional damage for all involved. Handling a divorce online allows you and your family to focus your time and energy on healing yourselves both mentally and emotionally by greatly decreasing the time you have to spend in an attorney’s office, courtroom or other legal setting.

Know this: Finances are the leading cause of marital troubles. Doesn’t that tell you that finances are one of the most important parts of staying in love – more important, even than fidelity, at least statistically speaking? So be a grownup and do all of your research, and then talk with your spouse or if you’re in the middle of a divorce, you need to do this for yourself.

Your math skills are as important as your verbal skills here. Go one by one through the items with paper, pencil, and calculator or an excel spreadsheet at hand.

If you’ve never done a budget before, here’s a quick how-to:

Make a list of your monthly fixed expenses, and put the dollar amount next to each, like this:

Fixed Expenses

Now make a list of monthly discretionary expenses, and put what you feel is a reasonable dollar amount next to each:

Discretionary Expenses

Children expenses

Payments to Creditors

Add up your fixed and discretionary expenses and write down the total.

Now add up your income:

Income

Add up your total income and write down the total.

Now subtract total expenses from total income.

If the result is a positive number, your budget appears to be healthy, assuming that all the numbers you’ve estimated are close to reality. If it’s a negative number, then you need to either increase income or reduce expenses until the final sum comes up as either zero or a positive number. Otherwise, you will be going into debt each and every month and that debt will mount, and guess what – you’ll be in financial trouble. That’s a fact, not something that will take care of itself.

Here’s where true adult behavior is a must. You must realize that the budget exercise is not a homework assignment that you can do incompletely or poorly; there is no grade of “C” where money is concerned. You can’t add up your numbers, come up in the negative, and throw up your hands and say “I hate money. This doesn’t work. Why even try. Forget it.” Well, actually, to be perfectly accurate, you can, of course, and many do. Those are the folks who end up in financial trouble; they have mounting credit card debt or overdue bills and they’re constantly stressed about money. You can join them if you like.

But if you want to be free of financial stress and worry, you have to accept that you’re not done with your budget until you get an “A,” a grand sum total of income minus expenses being greater than or equal to zero. If your numbers add up to a negative, you will be in the red. You will. You cannot accept this and figure it will “all work out somehow.” It won’t, I guarantee you.

You must – I cannot stress this enough – you must keep working with that pad and paper or that excel spreadsheet and adjust those numbers on the budget until you have a healthy and realistic budget. This means you will have to make real-life choices that will change the way you are going to live: choices about the size and location of your home, the amount that you and your spouse will earn, the kinds of cars you will drive (or if you’ll take public transportation to save money), whether you’ll join a health club or choose jogging to stay in shape, and even when or if you will have children. Money affects how you live. How you live affects your money. Make choices that both of you can happily live with and choices that will keep your financial picture healthy.

You can lean on someone, but you have to be able to stand on your own two feet, at a moment’s notice.

Everything is peachy in a marriage, until it isn’t. Women, who earn less than men and especially those who don’t earn at all, are severely disadvantaged during a divorce. I am a divorce attorney so my advice is written from that vantage point but the message applies to all women regardless of the condition of your relationship - it applies to everyone who is not in control of their finances. Ask yourself – can you stand on your own two feet at a moment’s notice? Can you pay your basic expenses if your partner suddenly decides to cut you off? No one wants to think about this but everyone should.

You cannot live without money and you should not live without knowledge regarding it.

Money and knowledge together form a powerful vehicle without which your options are severely limited. I don't want your options to be limited for lack of knowledge about your finances. When you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation you are considering extricating yourself from, I would like it if finances did not play a role in your decision-making. When you are faced with the incredibly difficult task of creating a chasm in the lives of your children, you should not also have to worry about how you are going to put food on the table or a roof over their head.

The solution is to trust, but verify the information you have regarding your finances and your livelihood.

It’s harder to be caught off guard if you always maintain your guard. I am not suggesting that you be paranoid. What I propose is that you keep yourself educated about the institutions where your money is being held, what type of assets you own, how much money you have in your bank accounts, what debts are tied to your name and when you’re asked to sign something – please, goodness’s sake, read it first.

Always have access to your own separate funds, create your personal emergency fund.

You should also be saving money in your own separate account that only you have access to so that you don’t find yourself completely broke after you are cut off from the credit cards and locked out of the only bank account you ever had access to – sadly, this is what happens more often than you would believe, even in long term marriages where on the outside it all looked so perfect. It shouldn’t have to be a secret either. If you are not the primary or joint account holder on an account, you can find yourself in dire straits. In any event, a joint account holder can wipe out the account without the knowledge or consent of the other. There is nothing devious about having your own nest egg.

Critical thinking is mandatory.

My goal is to provoke critical thinking in women, not arguments with your partner. It is very important to note that needing to "stand on your own two feet" does not have to be provoked by divorce. Death or disability are more common than you think and so you just have to know how to take care of yourself and your family. I know...adulting sucks, but here we are mothers, wives, children of aging parents, in short, adults who cannot abdicate our role in our family as productive participants just because someone has said "don't worry, I got this for you." Trust but verify.

Create a budget of your actual expenses and always know your sources of income – again, trust but verify.

Under any circumstance, it is imperative to know what it costs to run a household and how to access the funds you will need in the short term and then long term to not find yourself in a dire situation. Personal representatives may not always have your best interests in mind. They may be biased toward your partner’s family and then there are the unintentional errors that can cost you a fortune, if only you had been paying attention.

Do your research, be prepared.

Finally, you need money to hire a lawyer, and no divorce or probate lawyer worth their salt is going to take your case without an upfront retainer paid in full before they start working on your case – even when we know that ultimately your partner will be responsible for a portion, if not all of your fees. Where will you get the money to start your proceedings or defend against them? I hope you don’t need to ever hire a divorce attorney, but it won’t hurt to be prepared to do so, in case you do.

For more information buy my book: Just in Case!! Lose Your Heart, Not Your Mind - a smart woman's guide to marriage and self-sufficiency available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.

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