Spousal maintenance (also known as alimony) is an integral part of divorce, but for those going through gray divorce after a marriage of long duration, it can be especially tricky.
Today, although the wage earning gap is narrowing and not as wide as it may have once been when women were providing all of the primary care for the children. Many times in gray divorces these women were the stay-at-home spouse and out of the workforce for years, decades or may have never worked at all, when the divorce process begins.
Because of this, these spouses (typically women in gray divorces) find themselves at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to future income. This is where the spousal maintenance issue comes in.
The concept behind spousal maintenance is for the higher earning spouse to pay money to the lower or non-earning spouse in an amount and duration sufficient to assist the non-earning spouse with a source of income while they build up their own earning potential. It’s a type of “bridge” to help ensure temporary financial stability.
When it comes to gray divorce, however, the issue is compounded for both the paying spouse and the receiving spouse.
The person paying spousal support, typically men in gray divorces, may have been the primary wage earner during the marriage, but if they are at or nearing retirement age, how much can they really pay and for how long?
If nearing retirement, they may have to push retirement back for a number of years, just to pay support. This almost becomes a type of “indentured servitude” for the paying spouse. They may want to retire, but cannot and still meet their financial obligations.
If retired, they are already on a fixed income and may not be generating the income necessary to pay a monthly obligation in addition to their own bills.
The spouse receiving the support is also at a larger financial risk when they are at or nearing retirement. Obtaining new job skills or a degree, and entering or re-entering the job market, essentially having to start from scratch, can take many years. And they themselves will not be in a position to retire when they would like to.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that an award of spousal maintenance doesn’t come with a lifetime, iron-clad guarantee.
The paying spouse may lose their job, be forced to retire, or die. Being dependent on an older ex-spouse for your own financial independence is not exactly comforting.
There are numerous strategies and options to tackle these difficult issues that face couples in a gray divorce.
If you are at or are approaching retirement age and are considering divorce, and you would like to work with one of our experienced Attorneys, please call OWENS & PERKINS at (480) 994-8824 to schedule your free 30 minute consultation.