Alimony and Spousal Support in Georgia

Learn about alimony laws in Georgia and how judges decide spousal support awards.

Georgia Alimony

Under Georgia alimony laws, “a spouse in a divorce action or in cases of voluntary separation or where one spouse, against the will of that spouse, is abandoned or driven off by the other spouse, may seek an award of alimony.”

That’s a good introduction to how alimony laws work, but there’s a lot more to know if you’re faced with paying alimony, or you seek alimony support.

What Types of Alimony are Available in Georgia?

First, it’s essential to know that there is no difference between “spousal support” and “alimony” in Georgia. They’re used interchangeably.

In Georgia, judges can award alimony that is temporary or permanent. (Ga. Code Ann. § 19-6-4 (2018).)

Temporary alimony is sometimes referred to as alimony pendente lite and is appropriate in cases where one spouse needs financial support while the divorce is pending in court. That is often the case when one spouse makes considerably more than the other party, or one spouse stayed at home to take care of children and domestic activities and has limited financial resources.

Since a divorce can take well over a year to finalize, temporary alimony bridges the income gap with periodic payments, allowing spouses to adjust from a two-income household to one income.

An award of temporary alimony doesn’t guarantee alimony after the divorce. As part of the final divorce decree, the judge decides whether permanent alimony is appropriate and will create a new order that will continue after the divorce.

Suppose a spouse is unwilling to provide financial support temporarily. In that case, the other spouse can request a temporary court hearing to secure their immediate financial well-being.

Permanent alimony is a bit of a misnomer. Even when a judge orders it, this type of alimony is rarely for an unlimited period. A judge will grant permanent alimony in the sense that it is part of the final decree, making the terms of the award permanent until they expire or are modified.

Georgia courts reserve permanent/long-term alimony for spouses who cannot find a job and support themselves due to advanced age, chronic illness, or disability. The most common “permanent” alimony awards after a divorce are for spouses who need temporary support to acquire job training or education that will allow the spouse to find employment and become self-supporting. Sometimes, this is referred to as rehabilitative alimony.

Read More: What is a Marital Settlement Agreement?

How is Alimony Calculated in Georgia?

A party can request alimony by filing a petition with the court. After a need and an ability to pay have been established to establish an alimony agreement, a judge will use several factors to reach an amount of alimony and duration for alimony payments.

The marriage’s duration is another major factor in how alimony is determined. For example, if you and your spouse were married for 30 years, there is a higher chance of paying permanent alimony. That’s because your spouse has built much of their life around yours, and judges still often view a divorce after such a long marriage as financially devastating for non-income or a lower-earning spouse.

Most awards are periodic alimony payments (i.e., paid monthly or weekly) and continue until the court orders payments to stop.

In some cases, if the paying spouse has the means, the court may grant alimony as a one-time, lump-sum payment of support to the receiving spouse. Lump-sum payments are rare because the other party usually doesn’t have the funds to hand over a large sum of money to an ex-spouse. For those who do, it’s sometimes their preference to be done with alimony so they can alleviate ongoing monthly or yearly payments.

A lump-sum alimony payment can be broken down into installments if agreed upon. Under Georgia alimony laws, “lump sum alimony or alimony in gross refers to an exact number and amount of payments without other limitations, conditions, or statements of intent so that the amount of award is not contingent on future events but rather is ascertainable at the time of the court’s order.”

Factors in Determining Alimony in Georgia

When a spouse requests alimony through a court petition, before awarding alimony, the judge must find that one spouse needs the support, and the other can pay.

If there is a need and an ability to pay, the court will consider the following factors as part of the divorce process when creating a final support award:

  • The couple’s marital standard of living
  • The length of the marriage
  • Each spouse’s age, physical, and emotional condition
  • Both spouse’s financial resources
  • The time necessary for the supported spouse to acquire sufficient training or training to find appropriate employment
  • Each spouse’s contributions to the marriage, including childcare, education, and career-building of the other spouse
  • The financial conditions of each spouse, including separate property, earning capacity, and separate debts
  • And such other relevant factors the court deems equitable.

Can You Modify or Terminate Alimony in Georgia?

Yes, in specific circumstances, you can seek a modification or termination of alimony in Georgia. Either spouse can request to modify spousal support payments by petitioning the court and requesting more money, a longer duration, or less money and a shorter duration.

The spouse seeking alimony modification must demonstrate a change in circumstances of either spouse before the court will review for a possible modification. For example, a change in circumstances might be if

  • the supported spouse is cohabitating in a marriage-like relationship with another person ( known as Georgia’s “live-in lover” law
  • there is a significant and ongoing involuntary job loss
  • chronic and debilitating health issues
  • and other similar life events.

Other reasons to seek a modification can include when children graduate from school, get married, or move out of state.

Permanent alimony ends automatically if the supported spouse remarries or when either spouse dies. Temporary support ends when the judge finalizes the divorce.

There are instances where you can’t modify spousal support. For example, lump-sum alimony may not be modified. Also, if you agreed on no modifications as part of your original divorce decree, that will supersede a modification request.

After a party files the first petition for modification of alimony, that same party may not file subsequent petitions more than once every two years. It’s also good to know that the court may award attorney’s fees and costs of litigation in a modification of alimony action.

It’s not a bad idea to seek legal services to advise you in this crucial process.

Enforcing an Alimony Order

Spousal support is a court order, and judges take a dim view of people who do not comply with what the court has ruled. Because of this, spouses who do not make alimony payments as ordered can face several unpleasant consequences in Georgia.

Sometimes, alimony falling into arrears is unavoidable due to health issues or job loss. In those cases, you’re still obligated to pay the recipient spouse, but you may be able to seek a modification for relief.

Otherwise, the state of Georgia can take several possible actions to enforce an alimony order. For example, if a spouse fails to pay alimony despite a court order, that spouse may be held in contempt of court. That can lead to:

  • Ordering the delinquent spouse to make all past due alimony payments
  • Order interest on the arrears (outstanding payments)
  • Order the sale of the delinquent spouse’s property to satisfy arrears
  • Order the spouse to pay attorney’s fees and court costs
  • Order garnishments on the spouse’s wages. Georgia statutes give the court the authority to garnish up to 50% of a paycheck to satisfy alimony arrears.
  • Order a spouse to serve jail time until they agree to pay spousal support. Rare and only used where there are serious violations and other remedies have failed.

In conjunction with jail time, the court may decide to enroll the delinquent spouse in a diversion program so that he can continue to work and pay alimony while serving a jail sentence.

You can request the court use a specific form of enforcement, but the judge still has discretion in enforcing the order.

Also, the burden is on the former spouse who fails and refuses to pay alimony to show that he has put in a good faith effort and exhausted all available resources.

For example, quitting your job when you’re a paying spouse to avoid alimony is not a good faith effort. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Alimony and Taxes

If the judge finalized your divorce before December 31, 2018, maintenance payments are tax-deductible to the payer and taxable income to the recipient.

For any divorce concluded after December 31, 2018, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, spousal maintenance payments are no longer a tax-deductible expense for the payer, and the recipient will no longer pay taxes on the payments.

Georgia Alimony FAQs

How long do I have to pay alimony?

Each case is different, so there’s no easy way to answer this. Judges weigh factors in each case individually and decide how much alimony and duration is presumably fair and just to both parties.

Also, there is no specific length requirement for marriage to get alimony in Georgia. Time alone is not a factor. However, all other things being equal, the longer a marriage has lasted, and the more demonstrated the need is by a requesting spouse, the more likely that a long-term or permanent award will be put in place.

Most spouses who pay spousal support are not required to do so indefinitely. The exception is in cases where the other spouse has no means to support themselves and does not remarry.

Does adultery affect alimony in Georgia?

Georgia courts consider whether one spouse’s marital misconduct caused the marriage breakdown. The court will look at the cause of the separation, regardless of the grounds that a divorce is sought, as part of alimony deliberations.

To prove marital fault, you’ll need to produce testimony and evidence, such as videos, photographs, phone records, or witness accounts, including the findings of a private investigator.

A judge may reduce or even deny alimony for a spouse who otherwise qualifies but deserted the other spouse or committed adultery during the marriage.

Conversely, the court may award permanent alimony to the victim of marital misconduct.

Read More: What are the Types of Affairs?

Is there a Georgia alimony calculator?

No. Unlike child support, there is no specific formula to calculate alimony in Georgia. Instead, after demonstrating a need for alimony and the ability to pay, the judge will weigh each statutory factor equally to determine if alimony is appropriate and the type, duration, and amount of alimony.

Is custodial status considered when determining alimony in Georgia?

Georgia courts do not consider child custody status when determining alimony payments. This means that alimony calculations are not affected by whether or not the receiving spouse has custody of the children. However, child support payments can be a factor when determining the amount of an alimony award.

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