Determining and Changing Spousal Support

In North Dakota, judges have broad discretion in ordering one spouse to provide financial support to the other spouse in the event of a divorce. Spousal support (or “alimony”) is usually paid in regular installments and is intended to level the playing field for both parties. Perhaps one spouse had foregone educational or training opportunities in order to raise children, or a spouse has a disability that prevents him or her from becoming self-supporting. For the former situation, “rehabilitative spousal support” can be awarded to provide the spouse with opportunities to acquire the education or experience in order to become self-supporting. For the latter situation, “permanent spousal support” might be awarded to provide ongoing financial support because the spouse is 16028472885_f4cecd4054_bunable to achieve economic independence.

Factors courts use in determining spousal support:

  • The respective ages of the parties;
  • Their earning ability;
  • The duration of the marriage and conduct of the parties during the marriage;
  • Their station in life;
  • The circumstances and necessities of each;
  • Their health and physical condition;
  • Their financial circumstances as shown by the property owned at the time;
  • And such other matters as may be material.

Reasons for Changing Spousal Support

The spouse requesting the change must show that there has been a significant change to his or her circumstances, and that the change was beyond his or her control. Deliberately taking an underpaying job, for example, will not excuse a spouse from paying the full amount of spousal support. A change in spousal support does not have to be a permanent change: Temporary hardship may prompt a court to adjust the payments for a short time before returning to the original amount.

Section 14-05-24.1 of the North Dakota Century Code addresses the effect of remarriage upon spousal support. Remarriage of the spouse receiving support is another common reason for terminating permanent spousal support payments. The expectation is that the new spouse will provide for the economic stability of the spouse who had previously relied on the payments. It is possible, however, that the parties may agree to continue spousal support payments even upon remarriage, but such an agreement must be in writing. Furthermore, cohabitation that resembles a marriage will also trigger termination of spousal support payments after a year. Remarriage and cohabitation do not, however, affect rehabilitative spousal support which normally has a pre-determined end date.

The death of the recipient will also terminate spousal support. In contrast, the death of the payor does not terminate support. The payor’s estate must continue to make support payments in accordance with the court order.

The payor of spousal support can deduct the payments from their income and does not need to pay taxes on that amount. The recipient, on the other hand, must report the payments as taxable income. This is in contrast to child support, which is not taxable income. Therefore it is important for all parties to clearly differentiate between the different types of payments, and their respective purposes.

There are many financial considerations involved in a divorce. Contact the spousal support lawyers at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Attorneys or call 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002 for help protecting your rights and assets as you negotiate or litigate a settlement.