In Georgia, What Determines Alimony?
By Heather Frances J.D.
Alimony in Georgia is also referred to as spousal support. Georgia courts do not automatically award spousal support -- even in the case of a long-term marriage. Instead, a Georgia court considers several factors to determine whether or not to award alimony, as well as the type and amount of alimony that is appropriate.
Need and Ability
Unlike child support, courts do not determine spousal support issues based on a statutory formula that applies to every couple. Instead, alimony is awarded on a case-by-case basis. Generally, Georgia courts base alimony on one spouse's needs and the other spouse's ability to pay. If one spouse needs support payments but the other spouse is unable to pay without suffering financial hardship, the court is unlikely to award alimony as part of the divorce decree.
Types of Alimony
A Georgia court can award different types of alimony depending on the circumstances of the parties. Temporary alimony is often awarded during the divorce process to address a spouse’s needs such as attorney’s fees. A court might also order this type of support until certain assets are sold. Rehabilitative alimony is ordered to help a spouse adjust to post-divorce life and get back on her feet; it might provide for the education of the receiving spouse to enable her to become self-sufficient. When the court orders permanent alimony, the paying spouse must make regular payments for an indefinite period of time. In some cases, such as when a spouse is considered unreliable, a court might order lump-sum alimony, which is a one-time payment.
If the court sees a need for alimony and the ability to pay alimony, it will consider several factors to determine the amount of support it awards. These factors include the standard of living of the couple, how long they were married, the financial resources of each spouse and the contributions each spouse made to the marriage. Georgia courts are more likely to award alimony in cases of long-term marriages. Furthermore, a longer marriage generally means one spouse will pay alimony for a longer period of time. Georgia law does not allow a spouse to receive alimony if that spouse’s adultery or desertion was the cause of the divorce. Therefore, even if the divorce is based on no-fault grounds, the court will consider evidence of a spouse's misconduct before awarding alimony.
Circumstances might change after a court awards alimony, so Georgia law allows courts to modify alimony awards. If there is a change in the income or financial status of one of the parties, either party can petition the court to adjust the amount of the award or eliminate it altogether. For example, if the recipient party gets a new job or a significant raise in pay, the paying party might ask the court to reduce the amount of alimony he pays. Also, if the recipient party begins cohabiting with someone else, the paying party can petition to stop paying spousal support. However, a Georgia court will not consider modifying an alimony order until at least two years pass from the date of issuance. Further, a Georgia court will not modify a lump-sum alimony award.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.