Alimony: How a Judge Sets the Amount

Alimony case.You may find it difficult to go your own way with respect to finances after divorce. Most spouses both have jobs. However, it is still common for one spouse to be the homemaker in the marriage. Inequities arise when the economically dependent spouse can not find a suitable job after years of unemployment. In Iowa, courts award alimony, or spousal support, to compensate for disparities in the parties’ earning potential.

Why Do Iowa Courts Award Spousal Support?

Spousal support has been around for generations. It is common in divorces where one spouse is the primary breadwinner and the other is a homemaker or stay-at-home parent. Iowa courts understand that after separation, a homemaker may not be able to cover all the necessary living expenses once provided for by the other spouse. Spousal support remains available to those who need financial help during a separation or after a divorce.

How Do Iowa Courts Determine Whether Spousal Support Is Appropriate?

Iowa courts may award spousal support in any number of situations. However, courts must first make a threshold determination that one spouse has a legitimate need for support and the other party has the means to pay support. Under Iowa law, courts must consider the following common factors when deciding whether to award spousal support:

  • The length of the marriage;
  • The spouse’s age, physical health, and emotional condition;
  • The division and distribution of marital assets and liabilities;
  • Each spouse’s educational level before and after the marriage;
  • The supported spouse’s earning capacity, including vocational training and skills, employment experience, time out of the job market, child-rearing responsibilities, and the time and expenses necessary for the supported spouse to obtain suitable employment;
  • Feasibility of the supported spouse to become financially independent at a standard of living reasonably comparable to the standard enjoyed during the marriage; and
  • Any other factor the court determines to be relevant.

There are other factors that may be considered as well. Iowa courts have broad discretion as to whether to award spousal support. Note that an award of spousal support is gender-neutral. Either spouse may request support during separation or divorce.

What Are the Three Varieties of Spousal Support in Iowa?

Courts award spousal support in three distinct situations. Rehabilitative alimony is intended to allow for an economically dependent spouse to get back on their feet. Traditional alimony is intended to sustain the economically dependent spouse’s lifestyle they enjoyed during the marriage. Reimbursement alimony is intended to compensate the economically dependent spouse for their past economic sacrifices during the marriage.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony supports an economically dependent spouse for a limited time following the marriage. The purpose of this type of alimony is to support the spouse for a period of time sufficient for them to obtain necessary training or education so they can become financially independent.

Traditional Alimony

During a marriage, each spouse has a reciprocal obligation to support the other. Traditional alimony is an allowance to the former spouse in lieu of the mutual obligation for support that terminates after divorce. This form of alimony will continue indefinitely so long as the economically dependent spouse is alive, and never remarries. When determining the appropriateness of traditional alimony, an Iowa Court must consider (1) each party’s earning capacity; (2) their current standard of living; and (3) the ability to pay. Courts must then balance these considerations against the needs of the economically supported spouse. This form of alimony can be permanent. It may only terminate upon the death or remarriage of the economically dependent spouse.

Reimbursement Alimony

Traditional alimony may be ineffective where divorce comes soon after one of the spouses obtains an advanced degree such as a medical degree or juris doctor. While the spouses may have few tangible assets and a modest income at the time of divorce, one of the spouses is on the threshold of a substantial increase of income, aided by the other spouse’s support. Thus, the Iowa Supreme Court fashioned the concept of “reimbursement alimony.” It recognizes the economic sacrifices by one spouse that directly enhance the future earning capacity of the other. For example, a spouse who worked to put the other spouse through medical school or law school during the marriage would be entitled to reimbursement alimony. Note that former spouses cannot modify or terminate an award of reimbursement alimony until full compensation is achieved or the receiving spouse dies, whichever comes first.

Alimony Termination

An award of traditional spousal support or rehabilitative alimony may not terminate automatically after the economically dependent spouse remarries. However, an obligated spouse may be able to go to court and force the economically dependent spouse to demonstrate that extraordinary circumstances exist sufficient to justify continued spousal support.

Alimony and Property Division

Iowa courts consider property division when making a spousal support determination. Depending on the size of the marital estate, it may be unnecessary to award alimony. In the alternative, courts may factor in a spouse’s need for alimony when dividing up marital property and award the dependent spouse a larger percentage of the assets.

Dedicated Alimony Legal Matters Attorneys Who Will Help Protect Your Rights

303 Legal, P.C., serves clients in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and all of eastern Iowa. We are committed to helping families navigate some of the most emotional and contentious matters. Whether we are seeking support for an out-of-work spouse or petitioning for a modification or termination of a traditional alimony award, we take great pride in our ability to guide clients through highly sensitive matters that impact not only their lives but the lives of their loved ones. Contact the experienced lawyers at 303 Legal, P.C., today for a free consultation.