Alimony (Spousal Support)
Connecticut’s alimony statute [C.G.S. § 46b-82] provides that the court may enter a decree ordering either of the parties to pay alimony in addition to, or instead of, a division of property. But there is no absolute right to alimony. Nor can it be said that alimony is intended to provide the recipient with the kind of living that might have been enjoyed if it had not been for the divorce. In general, the amount of support is determined by the reasonable limits of the payor spouse’s ability to pay. The court has wide latitude in determining the type, amount and duration of alimony in any given case.
The factors that the court must consider are essentially the same as those for property division. These factors are (1) the length of the marriage; (2) the causes for the break-up of the marriage; (3) the age of the parties; (4) the health of the parties; (5) the station of the parties; (6) the occupation of the parties; (7) the vocational skills and employability of the parties; (8) the estates of the parties; (9) the needs of the parties; (10) the property division; (11) the desirability of custodial parent securing employment; and (12) the existence of other factors.
If the parties reach an agreement resolving the matter of alimony the court will not be required to apply the factors listed above, but instead must inquire into the financial resources and actual needs of the spouses and to approve the agreement if it is found to be fair and equitable. C.G.S.A. § 46b-66.
Factors Affecting Alimony Awards
Length of the Marriage. The length of the marriage is a major factor that the court must consider. The duration of the marriage, however, is only one of the factors and is not likely to be controlling by itself. That being said, the length of the marriage is an important consideration affecting the amount and duration of an alimony award. In the absence of unusual circumstances, in a very short marriage it could be expected that the court would either not award or significantly reduce an award of alimony to the other spouse.
Causes for the Dissolution. The cause for the breakdown of the marriage is one of the factors the court must consider in determining financial awards. Although Connecticut is a “no-fault” state in terms of grounds for the dissolution of the marriage, the issue of fault can still be relevant to the determination of spousal support. This is so even if the parties are seeking dissolution based on no-fault grounds. Although the court will consider the causes for dissolution, the comparative fault of the parties is only one factor used in determining an award of alimony.
Age of the Parties. The age of the parties is taken into account in making an award of spousal support. The court will consider the amount of time left to the party to become self-supporting after the dissolution. This factor becomes more important if there is an age disparity between the parties. It also may become important when considered with other factors affecting distribution. For example, a fifty-five year old with no employment history or occupational skills will be viewed differently than a twenty-five year old.
Health of the Parties. The court will consider the health of each of the parties in making its awards and determinations. Health is one of the criteria that may not have a significant impact if both the parties appear healthy. By contrast, the matter would become more significant if there is some major difference in the health of the parties.
Station of the Parties. The “station” of the parties has to do with “social standing.” See Blake v. Blake, 207 Conn. 217, 541 A.2d 1201 (1988). Along with other factors, a person’s social standing is strongly correlated to his or her standard of living. The court may consider the standard of living enjoyed by the spouses.
Occupation and income. Issues concerning occupation, vocational skills, employability and income are interrelated. Although the party need not be engaged full-time in the occupation at the time of the decree, the occupation of a party should be one which the party has pursued at least at some point during the marriage, rather than one that the party theoretically may be able to pursue in the future.
The income available to a spouse has to do with net income, not gross income or earnings. However, the courts are aware that parties may attempt to reduce their net earnings by having various obligations or other amounts withheld directly from their earnings. It is clear that only statutory deductions, such as federal income taxes, social security, wage garnishment, union dues or contractually mandated obligations of the employee are to be deducted. Optional deductions, such as profit sharing plans, IRAs, stock purchases and credit union deposits are not proper reductions from earnings for determination of financial orders. The issue of whether to include gifts and loans from family members as income depends on whether and to what extent the funds will be actually available to the spouse.
There is also the possibility that one or the other spouse would voluntarily reduce or deplete his or her earnings in order to gain a more favorable distribution. In such situations financial awards may be based on the spouse’s earning capacity rather than on the party’s actual earned income.
Vocational skills and employability are additional factors the court must consider in determining financial orders. Matters related to occupation and income may require evidence of present employment and/or recent employment history. Such information would not be available with respect to spouses who have not been employed outside the home during much of the marriage. In such cases individuals may have acquired vocational skills prior to or during the marriage and might be employable at the present time or in the future.
Estates of the Parties. The court is obligated to consider the estate of each of the parties. The term “estate” in this context does not have to do with wills or inheritances. It refers to the respective assets and entitlements of each of the spouses. The amount to be considered is the size of the estate at the time of the divorce. Included in the estate of the party are assets which the party has an immediate right to receive. For example, certain pensions and certain kinds of deferred compensation may be considered even though the party may not be entitled to receive those benefits until some time in the future.
Connecticut law is consistent that a spouse’s potential future inheritance may not be considered. Evidence of a spouse’s possible future inheritance is not admissible for the purpose of a property assignment or alimony award. Rubin v. Rubin, 204 Conn. 224, 527 A.2d 1184 (1987).
Needs of the Parties. The court must evaluate the needs of the parties when fashioning a financial order. The court will consider both the immediate present needs and their probable future needs as long as there is a basis for estimating those future needs. This does not mean, however, that the court will guarantee that the dependent spouse maintains the lifestyle established during the marriage if the payor spouse’s income and assets do not warrant such an award. Nevertheless, there may be situations in which the needs of a spouse are accorded greater weight, such as where a spouse is disabled and not likely to be employable.