When a married couple gets a divorce, the court may award spousal support to one of the two spouses. Spousal support, or alimony, is not automatic. There is no longer an assumption that a husband will pay alimony to his former wife, or that a spouse with a higher income is necessarily responsible for support. The court has discretion in deciding whether to award spousal support. In addition, unlike child support, which is set according to very detailed monetary guidelines, courts have broad discretion in determining how much support to award, and how long payments should continue.
Spousal support may be ordered to be paid in a number of different ways. A court may order that support be paid for an indefinite duration or that a single sum be paid, either in a lump sum or in payments over time. Single sum payments may or may not end on the death of the spouse receiving the payments.
Spousal support may also be transitional. Transitional support is meant to supplement the income of the spouse who receives support. It is ordered for a definite period of time and that period of time is to be set out in the court’s decree. Transitional support is an acknowledgement of the fact that many spouses suffer an economic loss after a divorce.
Finally, spousal support is often deemed “rehabilitative.” Rehabilitative support is intended to provide the spouse who receives it with education, training, work experience, or other forms of rehabilitation to increase his or her ability to earn income and become self-supporting. A court order for rehabilitative support may include a specific rehabilitation plan. The continuation of support may be conditioned on the receiving spouse following that plan.
When the New Mexico courts consider whether to make an award of spousal support, and what kind of support to award, several factors are looked at. These are the factors considered:
The age, health, and means of support of each spouse;
The current and future earnings, and the earning capacity of each spouse;
Each spouse’s good-faith efforts to stay employed or to become self-supporting;
The reasonable needs of each spouse, including:
The standard of living during the marriage;
The maintenance of medical insurance; and
Whether life insurance on the life of the person who is to pay support is appropriate;
The duration of the marriage;
The amount of property awarded to each spouse;
The respective spouse’s individual assets;
Each spouse’s debts and other liabilities;
Income produced by property owned by each spouse; and
Any dissolution or legal separation agreements entered into.
Although awards may be hard to estimate, whether the payer that is ordered to pay spouse will comply with a support order is even harder to gauge. Alimony enforcement is not like child-support enforcement, which has the “teeth” of wage garnishment, liens, and other enforcement mechanisms. The recipient could, however, return to court in a contempt proceeding to force payment.
Support awards end after a stated period of time, or when some event happens. This event is often the remarriage of the spouse receiving support, but it may also be graduation from college or completion of some other kind of job training or education.
Most marriages today are between two wage earners. Spouses of either gender are more likely to be regarded as self-supporting, or capable of supporting themselves, than they were in the past. Despite this change in social attitude, the reality is that one spouse often loses earning power during a marriage. Spousal support is meant help such a spouse minimize his or her economic loss.
For further information about Alimony, please refer to the Alimony Guidelines and Commentaries document prepared by the New Mexico Courts. (NOTE: this is a large document, and may take some time to download.)