Here’s what you need to know if you’re facing an alimony action in Rhode Island.
Who is Entitled to Alimony in Rhode Island?
Alimony refers to one spouse’s payments to another after a divorce or separation has occurred. Alimony can also be referred to as spousal maintenance or support.
To qualify for alimony, a spouse must be able to prove they cannot support themselves either during a divorce action or when it is finalized. Alimony is also awarded when the court determines that the paying spouse’s ability to pay alimony is handled in a way that maintains a standard of living both parties enjoyed during the marriage.
Types of Alimony in Rhode Island
There are two types of alimony in Rhode Island:
The most common is temporary alimony. This temporary support is awarded to give a spouse time and financial resources to obtain vocational or educational training and achieve self-sustenance and gainful employment. Temporary alimony is sometimes called rehabilitative support.
A rarer type is permanent alimony, which is paid on an ongoing or indefinite basis. This award lasts until either spouse has died or the receiving spouse gets remarried. Permanent alimony is often awarded in long-term marriages when one spouse has been out of the workforce for a long time, or can’t be self-sustaining due to age, illness, or an ongoing disability.
Alimony can also be awarded while a divorce is in progress to help a spouse remain financially solvent until the divorce is finalized. This is often referred to as pendente lite alimony. It ends when the divorce is final and may be replaced by other forms of support.
Spouses can also draft their own alimony terms. This mutual agreement gives them flexibility and more control over the process instead of having the court decide the matter. A Rhode Island divorce judge will still need to review and approve the agreement, but as long as it is fair and just, approval is often just a formality.
What Factors Are Used to Determine Alimony?
There are no mathematical formulas for calculating alimony in Rhode Island.
A family court justice decides each request on a case-by-case basis when awarding alimony. They have broad discretion to decide the duration and amount.
The justice must first consider whether the requesting spouse requires support and if the payor spouse can afford to make payments and still support themselves.
The justice will also consider the following:
- Length of the marriage
- How the spouses conducted themselves during the marriage
- What is the employment status and skill set of each spouse? If a party was a homemaker, the court would look at their education, skills, or experience and the potential earning capacity if entering the workforce
- What is the health and age of each spouse? Does one spouse have a physical disability or other limiting condition?
- Whether one spouse has custody of a minor child. If so, would it prevent him or her from being able to earn an income while taking care of the child?
- If one spouse was a stay-at-home parent or homemaker during the marriage, will he or she need education or job training to be self-sufficient? If so, how long would this process take, and what would it cost?
- What was the standard of living during the marriage?
- Is there a significant wage gap?
- Property division in divorce. Was the property division (including revenue streams from a business, for example) sufficient for the support of a spouse?
- Actions during the marriage. The conduct of the parties (adultery, abandonment, financial cheating, substance abuse) during the marriage may be considered in determining whether there should be spousal support.
Most alimony payments are periodic, paid monthly or quarterly to the recipient. In some cases, the court may order a lump-sum payment as part of the divorce settlement, which could mean a single payment or a series of larger payments to cover the amount of alimony the supported spouse would have received over time.
In rare circumstances, the judge may order the paying spouse to turn over title to personal or real property (not separate property) in place of an alimony award.
Read More: Divorce Laws in Rhode Island
Modifying or Terminating Spousal Support in Rhode Island
A family court justice can modify an alimony award if there is a substantial change in circumstances that warrants it.
A court may change the maintenance terms written in the divorce decree, then backdate them to the date the major change occurred. This protocol may help lower or eliminate any arrears or back payments that a spouse has been unable to make.
A substantial change in circumstances that can justify a modification or termination can include:
- Loss of employment
- Substantial changes in income
- Medical expenses from a sudden illness or injury
- Remarriage or cohabitation
- Other similar health, income, or life changes
Either spouse may petition the family court to alter or terminate maintenance payments. To begin these proceedings, either spouse must file a motion with the county court’s clerk’s office and request that the courts review the existing alimony order.
Read More: What is Collaborative Divorce, and is it right for you?
Enforcing Rhode Island Alimony Awards
The monies you owe become known as alimony arrears if you do not pay alimony when it is due.
When a person is ordered to pay spousal support and does not pay it, the receiving spouse can file a motion for contempt of the court’s order.
Failure to comply with a court-issued maintenance order may result in being charged with contempt of court. Contempt of court can result in fines, paying added court costs, or in some cases, a jail sentence. Courts can also place liens on real property or bank accounts to satisfy the debt.
These payments can also be collected through small claims court, or your wages might be garnished.
Read More: How to Find Hidden Assets in a Divorce
Spousal Support and Taxes
Due to recent changes in Federal laws, if you pay alimony you cannot deduct support payments under a divorce or separation instrument executed after 2018. These payments are also not included as taxable income for recipients.
The same is true of alimony paid under a divorce or separation instrument executed before 2019 and modified after 2018 if the modification expressly states that the alimony isn’t tax deductible to the payor spouse or included in the income of the recipient spouse.
A taxpayer who is a paying spouse under a divorce agreement executed before 2019 can deduct those payments from taxes when the following criteria are met:
- The recipient must be a spouse or former spouse
- There must be a written divorce or separation instrument
- Alimony must be made with cash payments (such as checks and money orders)
- Maintenance does not continue after the recipient dies
- The parties must live apart, residing in different households
- The parties must file separate tax returns (they cannot file a joint return and claim the alimony deduction)
- The court order of alimony cannot state that alimony support is not deductible
Rhode Island Alimony FAQs
Is there a set list of statutory factors for calculating alimony?
Rhode Island has a defined list of statutory factors that are legally required to be considered by a judge when determining alimony payments. These factors may be directly connected to the alimony calculation.
Is marital fault considered in Rhode Island alimony?
Rhode Island considers marital misconduct when determining alimony payments. This means that “at-fault” divorces, which may be caused by adultery, abuse, substance issues, abandonment, and so forth, can result in the at-fault party paying more “punitive” alimony.
If an extramarital affair was the reason for a divorce, the person who had the affair will probably not get any spousal support.
Rhode Island does not take adultery lightly. It is still technically a crime in this state. Therefore, a spouse could theoretically be fined $500 for committing adultery, but this “crime” is rarely prosecuted.
If the court finds that a spouse spent money on the extramarital affair (such as buying food, goods, hotel rooms or vacations for their lover), a judge would take those expenses into consideration when dividing up the property.
However, Rhode Island courts do not consider adultery when making decisions about child custody and visitation rights unless the affair had a negative effect on that spouse’s ability to be an effective parent.
Is child custodial status considered when determining alimony in the state of Rhode Island?
The judge will consider child custodial status when determining alimony payments. This means that alimony calculations are affected by whether or not the supported spouse is also the custodial parent, and a custodial spouse often receives higher alimony payments to offset additional living costs.
Can alimony be waived by a prenuptial agreement?
Rhode Island courts consider a prenuptial agreement a valid contract and will use the terms in the agreement to guide their decisions. If the agreement calls for no alimony order, then a judge will adhere to those terms, and no alimony award is made to a requesting spouse.