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What You Should Know about Spousal Support / Alimony in Ohio

By Jim Robenalt

The topic of spousal support – otherwise known as “alimony”—often comes up for couples mediating their divorce in Ohio. Below is a summary of spousal support in Ohio which should help inform your decision-making as you agree on whether and how much spousal support is appropriate given your circumstances.

Is it “spousal support” or “alimony”?

The terms “spousal support” and “alimony” are used interchangeably and mean the same thing. Traditionally, the term “alimony” implied payment from a husband to his ex-wife. However, in 1979, the Supreme Court, in Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. 268, relied on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to strike down an Alabama statute that only permitted husbands to make alimony payments. Since that time, courts nationwide – including in Ohio – use the more gender-neutral term “spousal support.”  

 What are the different types of spousal support?


Temporary Support
: while a divorce or dissolution case is pending, parties can agree to a temporary support arrangement so that the recipient spouse has income for necessary living expenses. Some commentators have referred to temporary support as “undifferentiated family support” because it is may encompass both spousal support and child support. Essentially, it is the money necessary to cover family expenses – whether for a spouse and/or the children – while the parties await a final decree concluding their marriage.

Post-Divorce Support: once a final dissolution or divorce decree is entered by the court, the parties can enter into a more permanent spousal support arrangement. This can take different forms depending on the parties’ needs and interests:

  1. Lump sum: A one-time lump sum payment may be preferable for couples who wish to cut ties in the event they are experiencing high tensions and/or have moved on to a new relationship. In this case, the payor spouse will need ready access to a significant amount of money and the recipient spouse will need to employ some financial planning to ensure the lump sum received will allow them to meet their living expenses over time.
  1. Monthly payment: A couple can also agree to fixed monthly payments for a period of time. In this scenario, both couples should complete budgets to understand how a monthly transfer of money will impact their ability to meet their living expenses and achieve their financial objectives.
  1. Rehabilitative: this form of spousal support is specifically aimed at allowing a recipient spouse to secure the necessary education or job training to find employment—or secure a better job—that will allow them to meet living expenses. This arrangement can come in the form of a lump sum or monthly payment.

How much spousal support and for how long?

 
For any couple negotiating spousal support, as they do during mediation, it is important they understand what criteria a court would look to should their case head to trial. Specifically, every Ohio court that issues a spousal support decision must consider 14 factors as outlined by statute in Ohio Revised Code 3105.18. These factors include the parties’:

  • Income;
  • Relative earning abilities;
  • Ages as well as physical, mental and emotional conditions;
  • Retirement benefits;
  • Duration of the marriage;
  • Whether one is a custodian of a minor child;
  • Standard of living during the marriage;
  • Education;
  • Relative assets and liabilities;
  • Contribution to education, training or earning ability;
  • Time and expense necessary to acquire education, training, or job experience;
  • Tax consequence of support; and
  • Any other factor the court deems relevant and equitable.

Some of these factors, of course, may have no relevance to a particular couple’s circumstance, while others may hold special significance. A court’s overarching aim is to arrive at a spousal support award (or no award) that is both “appropriate and reasonable.” (ORC 3105.18)

As a general matter, the longer the marriage and the greater the income disparity between a couple, the more likely spousal support will be awarded. Likewise, spousal support is often not deemed appropriate when a couple has a short marriage and/or relatively equal incomes or assets.

Are there any general guideposts for determining the amount and duration of spousal support?

 
As a general matter, the longer the marriage and the greater the income disparity between a couple, the more likely spousal support will be awarded. Likewise, spousal support is often not deemed appropriate when a couple has a short marriage and/or relatively equal incomes or assets.

Oftentimes, specific judges or county courts may rely on general guideposts in addition to the statutorily prescribed factors in order to resolve a spousal support amount. As published by the Ohio Bar Association, courts may rely on formulas — such as one year of spousal support for every 3 or 5 years of marriage, or income equalization or some percentage of same. However, these guideposts – at least in Ohio – are not published and a court will almost certainly be influenced by different criteria that cannot be neatly compartmentalized into a one-size-fits-all formula.

Therefore, a divorcing couple usually has to negotiate a spousal support amount without knowing specifically how a court might rule. Instead, they must focus on their particular circumstances with attention to, among other matters, how much support is required, how much they can afford, and what seems fair and reasonable.

What are the Tax Implications for Spousal Support?

The 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA), signed in December of 2017, eliminated the tax implications for spousal support. For a long time, spousal support was tax deductible for the payor and taxable as income for the recipient. Since passage of the TCJA, that is no longer the case. For all divorces finalized after January 1, 2019, the paying spouse can no longer include spousal support payments as a tax deduction, and the recipient spouse is no longer required to report spousal support payments as income. That is, payment of spousal support is a non-taxable event.

Is it a spousal support award modifiable?

 
Ohio law states the court does not have jurisdiction to modify a spousal support award unless the dissolution decree reserves jurisdiction to modify the amount or terms of the support. The parties, therefore, have to request that the court retain jurisdiction to modify the award down the road. There is a further requirement that there be a change in circumstances in order to modify a spousal support award. Change of circumstances is defined to include an increase or involuntary decrease in wages, salary, bonuses, living expenses, or medical expenses.

Therefore, when deciding whether to request that court retain jurisdiction, the parties should consider the likelihood of a change in circumstances in the future.

 How is spousal support different from child support?

If a divorcing couple has young children under the age of 18, they may have to consider the appropriate amount of child support and spousal support. If so, the parties should be aware of the differences between these two types of support.

Whereas with spousal support — where one spouse has a duty to support the other — child support is different. Both parents have an obligation to support their child and provide for their well-being. Ohio law sets out an objective child support obligation amount which both parents must meet based on their relative incomes – or “income shares”. 

Also, while child support is based on an objective worksheet or calculator, spousal support in Ohio is determined on a case-by-case basis with attention to the parties’ particulars – how long were they married? Is there a discrepancy in income?  What are their expenses? What was the standard of living established during marriage? What are their job prospects? Are they in relatively good health?

Spousal support and child support are also different due to duration. Child support must be paid for the duration of childhood until a child turns 18 or graduates high school. Spousal support is often paid for a shorter time period – typically for a few years. There are instances in which spousal support is paid for an indefinite period, but this is less common.

It is also notable that, if the higher earning spouse agrees or is required to pay both spousal and child support, then the amount of spousal support paid will be included as income to the person receiving the spousal support for purposes of calculating child support. The spousal support award therefore impacts the child support equation.

Courts will no doubt place the highest priority on the well-being and best interests of children. If only one type of support can be paid, it will be for the benefit of the children. This is, of course, a balancing act as the well-being of the children is linked with the economic means of their custodial parent.

What is the method for paying spousal support

For those parties who do not have minor children, they have the option to make spousal support payments directly without involving state agencies. In order to secure permission to make direct payments, the parties must do so in a manner that establishes a “clear record of payment” – such as a check, online deposit, or money order. 

If the parties do have minor children, they must make payments through the office of child support in the department of job and family services. Many are unhappy to learn that there is a mandatory 2% processing fee for each support payment.

If the spousal support obligor is employed, then payments will be made through an income withholding order. Such an order requires the payor spouse’s employer to withhold the spousal support amount from the payor spouse’s paycheck, send it directly to the office of child support which then remits payment to the supported spouse.

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If you have questions about whether a spousal support award is appropriate in your case, contact an experienced mediator and lawyer to discuss your particular circumstances. Please schedule a free consultation call, or get in touch with our firm by calling us at (216) 206-9789.

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