In a dissolution of a long-term marriage where there is a difference in the spouses’ income, it is possible that the higher earning spouse may be required to pay spousal maintenance, formerly known as alimony. Whether maintenance should be paid depends on a number of factors including the income and needs of the parties, realistic earning potential, duration of the marriage, the age, health and education of the parties, and the standard of living established during the marriage. Under an early version of the maintenance statute, once the court found that maintenance was appropriate, it had broad discretion in setting the amount and length of maintenance. It made it incredibly difficult for attorneys to predict maintenance outcomes for their clients.
To address this issue, the statute was recently amended to provide courts with guidelines on the length and amount of maintenance. The following is a series of steps, rules, and examples of how to figure out the guideline maintenance.
1. The first thing we need to determine is what each person’s income is in a year. For maintenance calculations, we use gross income.
Person A earns $80,000/year
Person B earns $20,000/year
Person C earns $55,000/year
Person D earns $45,000/year
2. Next we take 30% of the higher earner’s income minus 20% of the lower earner’s income. This amount is the yearly maintenance due. However, as we see in step 3, there are limitations to this amount. (A x 0.3) – (B x 0.2) = Yearly maintenance due.
A: $80,000 x 0.3 = $24,000
B: $20,000 x 0.2 = $4,000
$24,000 – $4,000 = $20,000
C: $55,000 x 0.3 = $16,500
D: $45,000 x 0.2 = $9,000
$16,500 – $9,000 = $7,500
3. However, the person who receives maintenance’s income and the maintenance due cannot exceed 40% of the combined total of the two people’s income. (A + B) x 0.4 must be smaller than the yearly maintenance due plus A in order to receive maintenance.
$80,000 + $20,000 = $100,000
$100,000 x .4 = $40,000
$20,000 (sal) + $20,000 (main)=$40,000
$40,000 (sal + main)=$40,000 so maintenance will be $20,000/year
$55,000 + $45,000 = $100,000
$100,000 x .4 =$40,000
$45,000 (sal) + $7,500 (main)=$52,500
The salary alone exceeds the 40% rule, so there will be no maintenance due.
The length of maintenance is normally a percentage of the length of the marriage. Maintenance is a tax deduction for the payer and taxable income for the recipient.
Sound complicated? It certainly can be. The attorneys of Barash & Everett, LLC are experienced with how the statute works and the tendencies of the circuit judges. Because judges may make maintenance awards outside the boundaries of the guidelines, it’s important to know what judges find important. The best action you can take is to make an appointment so we can help you navigate this legal minefield.
By Lance Camp