Alimony: The Comprehensive Connecticut Guide
Alimony is one of the most important issues in divorces. And, it’s one of the most confusing. There are no set formulas or rules on (1) whether there will be alimony, and, if so, (2) how it’s calculated or (3) how long it will last. The good news is that this means there is tremendous flexibility for experienced divorce attorneys to craft an individualized approach. In order to prepare to make solid and informed decisions, you need to understand how alimony works. The comprehensive Connecticut guide tells you everything you need to know about alimony in Connecticut.
Why Alimony is Important
Property division divides the assets (and debts) as of the end of the marriage, leaving the spouses independent financial futures. In contrast, alimony (like child support) represents an ongoing financial relationship between the spouses following the divorce. But, where child support concludes when children are grown, alimony has the potential to last a lifetime.
How spouses (or the court) handle alimony at the time of the divorce not only has long term impact on both people’s finances — but also on their ability to make changes to alimony down the road. That’s why it’s highly critical that alimony is thoughtfully and skillfully addressed and structured at the time of the divorce. Whether this is accomplished by waiving alimony entirely, establishing lifetime alimony, or everything in between should be custom-tailored to set both spouses up for strong financial futures.
Deciding on Alimony
Before we move on to the nuts and bolts of alimony, a brief word on how people reach decisions on alimony (and all the other issues in a divorce.)
Agreements Between Spouses
Spouses always have the opportunity to reach agreements on the issues in their divorce. These resolutions are reached via negotiation in litigated divorces or in litigation alternatives like mediation and collaborative divorce. In many cases, the spouses are able to resolve all issues in the divorce, resulting in a full settlement agreement. Then, lawyers present this comprehensive settlement agreement to the judge at an uncontested divorce hearing. The judge reviews the agreement, determines it is fair and equitable under Connecticut law, and verifies both spouses (1) understand the terms and consequences and (2) have not been forced to enter into the agreement. If all is in order, the judge finalizes the divorce that day, and the settlement agreement becomes an enforceable order.
Watch: “How To Choose Your Approach.”
Rulings By the Court
It’s also possible that spouses will reach agreements in some but not all issues. In that case, judges decide unresolved questions at a hearing or trial.
Advantages of Reaching Agreements
One of the greatest advantages of reaching their own agreement on alimony is that spouses maintain control. Judges do not know a couple or their situation personally, so it’s impossible for a judge’s ruling to be as dialed into the spouses and their goals.
Another advantage of reaching an agreement is that it allows an experienced family lawyer not only to be creative and tailor alimony to her client, but also to anticipate and prepare for the future. Spouses can agree to include in a structure for handling inevitable but unknown future circumstances right in their divorce agreement. This creates predictability and avoids future conflict.
Language in this Guide
Sometimes in this Guide, I’ve written “the court” or “judges” rather than “the spouses” can decide, etc. This is simply my shorthand intended to enhance your reader experience. It should not be taken as an indication that the spouses are not free to reach their own agreement. Ultimately, the court does have to approve the agreement to make it an enforceable court order. But under the Connecticut divorce statutes, judges will grant all fair and equitable agreements.
I also want to clarify that alimony is possible in legal separations and annulments as well as divorces. Also for brevity, I have used the term “divorce” to refer generally to all legal actions with an alimony component.
What is Alimony
At its most basic, alimony (also called “spousal support”) is money one spouse pays to the other towards that spouse’s living expenses. Alimony can be paid either during the divorce or once the divorce is final. Depending on the circumstances, alimony can be limited to a specific period of time or payable for a lifetime, depending on the particular circumstances of the case.
Purpose of Alimony
The concept of alimony in Connecticut divorces flows from spouses’ joint and continuing duty to support each other, even after a marriage has ended. The history and underlying purpose of alimony are key to understanding how modern courts determine the length of alimony.
History of Alimony in Connecticut
Connecticut wives had no right to a separate legal identity until the legislature passed the Married Woman’s Act in 1877. Since women had no right to buy, sell, or own property, there was no concept of alimony. After 1877, Connecticut courts recognized a husband’s responsibility to support his wife, including alimony. (Provided the wife didn’t fail in her marriage duties.) In the 1970s, the legislature made major changes to Connecticut’s family law, including no-fault divorce and the court’s ability to award alimony to either the husband or the wife. In 2013, the legislature revised the statutes to include gender-neutral language inclusive of spouses of the same sex.
Continuing Duty to Support
By the 1970s it was clear that both spouses have an ongoing duty to support each other. This is why we can have lifetime alimony — which can go on until the recipient spouse’s death. But more and more courts have begun to place a time limit on alimony.
Connecticut Alimony Calculator
“Connecticut Alimony Calculator” is a trick to make a point.
Unlike in some other states, there is no formula for alimony in Connecticut.
Instead, there are multiple factors that the court considers. While income plays an important role in the determination of alimony, alimony is a much more complex proposition. Judges (and the spouses when reaching agreements) take these factors into consideration when determining the following:
- Whether there will be alimony,
- If so, in what amount,
- And, for how long.
As you read these alimony factors, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the nuances. Nuances are generally the opposite of what people want when they begin a divorce, which is clarity. But, remember that at the beginning of this Guide I said that this vagueness is actually good. As you read, remember that this creates tremendous flexibility for experienced divorce lawyers to craft an individualized approach for their clients.
Applying the Alimony Factors
Although the Connecticut alimony statutes layout these factors for alimony, divorce generally and alimony specifically are equitable in nature. The court considers all of the alimony factors but need not give each factor equal weight, and there is no indication that any single factor is more important than any other factor. Instead, judges have the discretion to weigh these factors based upon the individual circumstances of each case. The key takeaway is that the court has broad discretion when it comes to alimony.
List of Alimony Factors
The alimony factors considered by Connecticut divorce courts include these elements:
- The length of the marriage,
- The causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage or legal separation,
And each spouse’s respective
- Amount and sources of income
- Earning capacity
- Vocational skills
- The award, if any, which the court may make pursuant to section 46b-81 (In other words, how the parties have agreed or how the court has decided to divide the spouses’ property is taken into consideration. Basically, there is an interplay between alimony and property division that we will discuss below.)
- Desirability and feasibility of the custodial parent securing employment
Factors in Depth
Some of the factors are self-evident, but others require additional explanation.
Length of the Marriage
The “length of the marriage” criterion tends to get a lot of attention, possibly because it’s the subject of one of the most common Connecticut alimony myths, namely that alimony is paid for half the length of the marriage.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no Connecticut law that says that alimony should be awarded for half of the length of the marriage. (Or for any other length of time, for that matter.) As we will discuss further below, a long marriage may have an enhanced impact on lifetime alimony awards. That said, the most important point to remember is that courts have broad discretion with respect to how to weigh and apply the factors.
Impact on Couples of the Same Sex
“Length of the marriage” is particularly important when it comes to divorcing spouses of the same sex. Speaking very generally, judges tend to grant alimony more frequently in marriages longer than 10 years, with the likelihood of lifetime alimony increasing in much longer marriages.
Of course, while same-sex marriage was legalized in Connecticut in 2008 and nationally in 2015, many couples have been together for much longer.
For example, let’s say a couple has been together for 30 years, and they married immediately at the end of 2008. If they divorced in 2017, they were married only 9 years—even though as longterm partners they shared property and assets and made important mutual financial decisions together for much longer.
Partners’ cohabitation prior to marriage is not among the factors considered in determining alimony. That said, events that occurred during the cohabitation may be considered if they have a bearing on other alimony factors.
In scenarios like this one, divorce counsel that is deeply versed in the issues facing same sex spouses can help guide strategy on any gap between the length of the marriage and equity considerations.
Causes for the Breakdown & Adultery
The “causes for the breakdown of the marriage” factor allows the court to consider what caused the breakdown of the marriage when determining alimony. If a spouse’s infidelity leads to the breakdown of the marriage, it might be relevant to the court’s alimony determination. This is a separate concept than the for fault divorce ground of adultery. In other words, even in a (much more common) no fault divorce, the court has the discretion to award the “less responsible” person a more favorable alimony award than that spouse might have received without “causes for the breakdown” criterion.
Now, just because the court has the discretion to do this, doesn’t mean the court is likely to do this. It isn’t.
It’s not hard to see why the serious emotional toll of infidelity leads some to overestimate its impact on alimony.
The practical reality is that evidence of adultery rarely leads divorce judges to penalize a spouse financially. In the rare times the court does, it’s generally in egregious cases and, even then, to a modest degree. That said, when a spouse spent substantial marital funds on an affair, courts may make the non-offending spouse financially whole, typically in the property division context.
Amount & Sources of Income
The “amount and sources of income” factor is relatively straightforward for most spouses, but can lead to questions regarding Social Security and child support.
When in pay status, courts can consider Social Security part of a spouse’s income, includable in the determination of alimony.
Connecticut factors alimony into the child support calculation. Both alimony from the marriage involved in the child support calculation and alimony from previous marriages come into play.
Annuitization is the process of converting an annuity into periodic income payments for either a specific amount of time or the insured’s life. Courts can include this income for purposes of determining child support or spousal support.
The “property division” factor can be confusing. Basically, when the court is deciding on alimony, it takes into account how the parties have agreed or how the court has decided to divide the spouses’ property. The main takeaway is that there is an interplay between alimony and property division.)
Once the court has decided whether alimony is appropriate in a divorce, it looks at the same factors to determine how long alimony will last.
There are three basic alimony timeframes in Connecticut:
- “Temporary” or “pendente lite” alimony while the divorce is pending
- “Open ended” or “lifetime” alimony
- “Time limited” or “rehabilitative” alimony (relatively short-term)
Time Limited or Rehabilitative Alimony
There are two main theories behind putting time limits on alimony.
The first, and probably the most common, is “rehabilitative alimony.” The theory is that limiting the alimony term encourages the recipient to incentivize the alimony recipient to obtain the skills, training, or education to become financially self-sufficient — and to provide support while that occurs.
The second, time limited alimony, can provide interim financial support until a future event occurs that reduces the need for support. For example, alimony might end when a child reaches maturity, a trust begins distributing funds, or a college degree is completed.
Open Ended or Lifetime Alimony
Lifetime alimony does still exist in Connecticut, although it is becoming less common. In fact, as of 2013, courts must specify their reasons when awarding open ended alimony.
As to when courts do award lifetime alimony, the key once again is to remember that court has abundant discretion.
Very generally speaking, judges tend to award lifetime alimony more frequently when there was a long marriage, one spouse worked outside the home, and the other spouse did not. It’s also possible that a spouse’s disability might play a part in persuading a judge that a lifetime award is appropriate.
Sometimes people refer to lifetime alimony as permanent alimony, but this is a misnomer. Even lifetime alimony orders terminate on the death of either party or the remarriage of the alimony recipient. As we will discuss later, once the court issues an alimony award, the parties may request modification or termination of that award upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. By agreement, spouses may specify whether alimony may be modified and under what circumstances.
Temporary or Pendente Lite Alimony
Temporary alimony — often called “pendente lite” alimony — is alimony that a court orders while a divorce is pending. When deciding whether to award alimony pendente lite, Connecticut courts use the same factors as they do when awarding alimony in the final divorce order. The only exception is that courts do not consider the grounds for the divorce. Temporary alimony ends as soon as a divorce is final. At the end of the divorce, the court makes the ultimate determination of whether that spouse will receive alimony post-divorce.
Waiver of Alimony in Connecticut
When you waive alimony at the time of the divorce, you’re also waiving any claim for past or future alimony. This is because courts lose jurisdiction to award future alimony if it’s not ordered at the time of divorce.
As a result, spouses’ separation agreements and judges’ decisions often contain nominal alimony awards like $1.
By including $1 of alimony, the court is able to modify alimony if it becomes appropriate down the road. Essentially, $1 alimony allows courts to address alimony at a later point if financial circumstances change.
Evidence of Adultery
As we discussed, relatively rare circumstances, adultery comes into play in alimony determinations under the “causes for the breakdown” factor. Note that spouses can only introduce evidence of infidelity prior to the finalization of the divorce decree. Once the court issues its alimony order, neither spouse can modify it by introducing evidence of previous adultery. Those factors are only relevant to the court’s initial alimony award.
Alimony and Taxes
Because of a tax law change in 2017, there are currently two different approaches to the tax treatment of alimony. For some, alimony is taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible to the payor. For others, alimony is “tax neutral.”
Read: Tax Basics and Divorce
Alimony Issues After Divorce
Sometimes, there is a Post Judgment issue with alimony after a divorce is final.
Connecticut Alimony Modification
The question of whether alimony may be increased, decreased, or eliminated is case-specific.
As we have discussed, most spouses resolve their divorces via an agreement, which becomes an enforceable order of the court. Or, in some high conflict cases, spouses can’t reach resolutions and the judge rules on alimony at trial. Therefore, the first step is to review the divorce court order. The order will show whether there was an alimony waiver and, if not, any specified structure to handle future modification.
If the spouses waived alimony, it cannot be modified post judgment. If they did not, and there is no structure in the divorce order, the question is generally whether there was a “substantial change in circumstances.”
Substantial Change in Circumstances
To determine whether there has been a substantial change in circumstances of either ex-spouse, courts compare the circumstances at the time of the last alimony order with circumstances at the time that a party seeks a modification. A minor income fluctuation alone generally isn’t a “substantial change in circumstances.” Also, an increase in the income of the alimony payor alone generally isn’t enough to modify an alimony award upward.
In many states, alimony automatically ends when the alimony recipient remarries. Not so in Connecticut.
The divorce order must specify that alimony ends automatically upon remarriage to eliminate the need for a post judgment modification.
It’s more complicated to modifying alimony based upon cohabitation than based upon remarriage.
Under Connecticut’s cohabitation statute, to prevail on a Motion for Modification based upon cohabitation, the alimony payor must successfully prove that 1) the former spouse is living with another person, and 2) that living with another person alters the former spouse’s financial needs.
There are complications even when it is clear that an alimony recipient is living with someone else. “Living together with another person” must cause a change in the recipient spouse’s financial circumstances.
Generally speaking, enforcing alimony orders is pretty straightforward. Either the former spouse made the alimony payment, or did not make the alimony payments.
Things get complicated when the alimony payor’s income is more complicated than standard W-2 income. For example, a business owner who has no (or minimal) W-2 income.
The primary means to enforce the divorce court’s alimony orders is via a Motion for Contempt.
Generally speaking, the court doesn’t patrol when people are following its orders, which means you affirmatively need to bring the problem to the court’s attention. We do this by filing a Motion for Contempt. A Motion for Contempt seeks that the court rule that your spouse was in contempt and order your ex to follow the court order.
A Motion for Contempt requires a specific burden of proof to be met by the requesting spouse. In order for the judge to make a finding of contempt, you will need to show by clear and convincing evidence (1) that there is a clear and unambiguous court order, (2) that the order has been violated, (3) that the party who violated the order acted willfully, and finally, (4) you must clearly explain the relief you are seeking from the court.
Securing Alimony with Life Insurance
What happens if a spouse dies while there is still alimony or child support? Courts often secure alimony with a life insurance policy. Even though even lifetime alimony ends at the death of the payor spouse, the payee spouse can receive a substitute for the alimony payments he or she would have received via life insurance proceeds.
Read: Life Insurance & Divorce
This guide gives you a lot of information about alimony in Connecticut. It goes from why alimony is important, to the factors judges’ consider, to the length of alimony, to changing alimony, and a whole lot in between. There’s a catch though: if you want to structure alimony in a way that works best for you, you need to have a lot of experience and really know what you’re doing.
But don’t worry — we’re here to help.
All these nuances are why Freed Marcroft lawyers limit their practice to family law. As they say, “jack of all trades, master of none.” Our in-depth understanding of the nuances of alimony and Connecticut divorce and family law allows us to craft and advocate for an alimony approach geared to our clients’ priorities.
Our first step at Freed Marcroft, the Goals & Planning Conference, is designed to get to the heart of your problem and unveil your true goals.