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What happens during a divorce when one spouse has a much higher annual income than the other spouse, or has greater assets/less debt that the other spouse? Often times a spousal support order is used by the Court to put spouses on equal footing.

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support is a payment made by one spouse to the other “for sustenance and for support.” It is governed by Ohio Revised Code section 3105.18. It is sometimes referred to as alimony.

Each spouse is considered to have equally contributed during the marriage. Spousal support is sometimes awarded as a way to create a more equitable financial situation between spouses during a separation and/or divorce. It may be awarded to help the spouse with the smaller income to get on his or her feet. For example, an award of spousal support may be meant to help the spouse moving from the marital residence to get a new home. Or, it may be awarded to allow one spouse to complete further education or certification to get a higher paying job.

Spousal support may be ordered as a lump sum, or as a monthly amount paid for a certain number of months/years. Spousal support may be paid directly to the recipient, through a wage withholding order, or in the form of payments made to lien-holders on behalf of the recipient spouse. Spousal support may be paid in money, or in real or personal property.

How Does the Court Determine Spousal Support Amounts?

The Court is generally charged with determining what spousal support order, if any, is appropriate. There is no exact formula in Ohio to determine when or how much spousal support will be ordered. Each spousal support order is decided on a case-by-case basis. The statute supplies guidance in the form of fourteen factors, which we have listed here with a brief example of each:

(a) The income of the parties, from all sources. This may include wages earned at a job, interest income from investments, and/or property distributed during the divorce.

(b) The relative earning abilities of the parties. An example of this would be a comparison of the spouses relative industries. One spouse may work in an industry where $250,000 is a standard salary, while the other works in an industry where salaries are capped at $50,000.

(c) The ages and the physical, mental, and emotional conditions of the parties. It very well could be that one party is unable, due to physical or mental disability, to work full time.

(d) The retirement benefits of the parties. If both spouses are close to retirement, for example, and one party has a well funded pension while the other party will merely draw Social Security, the Court may award spousal support to make things more equitable.

(e) The duration of the marriage. If the parties have been married a very short period of time, a spousal support order is not as likely, while a marriage of 20+ years is more likely to result in a spousal support order.

(f) The extent to which it would be inappropriate for a party to seek employment outside the home. For example, If the parties have young children, the cost of daycare is a factor in determining whether that spouse should work outside the home.

(g) The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage. If the parties during their marriage enjoyed a certain standard of living, the Court will attempt to maintain that standard if there is a way to do so in equity. For example, a spousal support order may be what allows the lower earning spouse to afford a home in a neighborhood comparable to where he or she lived during the marriage.

(h) The relative extent of education of the parties. A spouse with an advanced degree may be in a better position to earn a higher income than a spouse who has only graduated high school, and that is something the Court would take into account.

(i) The relative assets and liabilities of the parties. If one party is taking on more of the marital debt than the other, that could affect the amount of a spousal support order. Likewise, if one party has a car that is paid off or a home with no mortgage on it, they may be in less need of a spousal support order.

(j) The contribution of each party to the education, training, or earning ability of the other party. This may be considered by the Court if, for example, one spouse paid for the other spouse to attend graduate school during the marriage.

(k) The time and expense necessary for the spouse who is seeking spousal support to acquire education, training, or job experience so that the spouse will be qualified to obtain appropriate employment. A short term spousal support order may be appropriate, for example, if one spouse needs to obtain a two-year certification to be able to earn a comparable income to the other spouse.

(l) The tax consequences, for each party, of an award of spousal support. Spousal support is taxable as income to the party receiving it, and is a deduction for the party paying it. Thus, a spousal support order could cause the tax brackets of the parties to shift. This is something considered by the Court.

(m) The lost income production capacity of either party that resulted from that party’s marital responsibilities. One party may have taken an extended absence from his or her industry in order to take care of the minor children of the marriage, which may have resulted in setbacks in that party’s career path.

(n) Any other factor that the court expressly find to be relevant and equitable. Each divorce is different, and the statute allows for the Court to examine each on a case-by-case basis.

Can My Spousal Support Order Be Altered?

Spousal support orders are not necessarily etched in stone. A spousal support order will specify whether the Court retains jurisdiction to modify the amount and/or duration of the support paid. The order can then be adjusted for a change in circumstances with either spouse.

If you would like to obtain a consultation about spousal support specific to your circumstances, call Neyra, Mize & Associates today. 513.745.9095

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