Spousal support, formerly known as “alimony,” is support one spouse pays to the other after a divorce. Spousal support may be awarded, and special tax rules may apply.
Spousal support is not part of every Oregon divorce. If you or someone you know is considering divorce in Oregon, it’s critical to understand the state’s approach to spousal support. Working closely with an experienced divorce lawyer can protect your rights and build a better future.
The following are four things divorcing spouses should know about spousal support in Oregon.
Spousal Support Isn’t Appropriate – Or Awarded – In Every Case
In Oregon, spousal support is typically awarded for meeting one or more of three essential goals:
- To help one spouse meet basic needs, like food and shelter,
- To help one spouse preserve a similar lifestyle to the one experienced during the marriage; or
- To help one spouse become self-sufficient.
If none of these needs are at issue, a court will likely not award spousal support. For instance, if both spouses work at jobs that allow each spouse to be self-sufficient, a spousal support award may not be necessary.
The length of the marriage also affects spousal support decisions. Usually, spousal support is not awarded if the spouses were married for only a short time.
Spousal Support and Child Support Don’t Follow The Same Rules
Although the term names are similar, spousal support and child support work differently.
Child support is paid to help meet the basic needs of the child. Oregon courts might require a parent to pay child support even if that parent was never married to the child’s other parent. Child support is calculated according to a formula outlined in Oregon law.
Spousal support is awarded only in divorce cases – not in cases involving paternity or child custody when the child’s parents are not married. There is no formula for spousal support. Instead, the court considers what is “just and equitable” in each case when deciding how to calculate spousal support.
The following factors that may affect whether a spousal support arrangement is “just and equitable” are:
- The length of the marriage,
- The age and health of each spouse,
- The work experience and earning capacity of each spouse,
- The standard of living during the marriage,
- How assets, debts, and child custody/parenting time is divided; and
- The costs of related needs, like health care.
These factors aren’t always weighted equally. For instance, a court may look more closely at the spouses’ respective work experience and earning capacity than at the spouses’ ages and health, especially if the spouses are close in age and have similar health situations.
Oregon Recognizes Three Different Types of Spousal Support
Oregon courts award spousal support for three primary reasons. As a result, courts often think of spousal support in three different ways:
– Transitional Support: Helps one spouse get the education or training needed to find a job or move forward in a career. Transitional support is often awarded to a spouse whose years as a stay-at-home parent paused their career growth. Its purpose is to help that spouse reenter the workforce.
– Maintenance Support: Seeks to close the gap when one spouse has a much larger earning capacity than the other – especially when that gap cannot be completed without years of work, if ever. Maintenance support is most common after years or decades of marriage, in which one spouse’s chance to build a career similar to that of the other spouse has passed by or been cut short.
– Compensatory Support: Seeks to even the scales when one spouse has contributed heavily to the education, training, career skills, or earning capacity of the other spouse, or where one spouse receives the lion’s share of assets when the marital property is divided, and there is no other way to make that distribution more equitable. Compensatory support is the least common type of spousal support.
A spousal support award may be composed of any or all of these three types. For instance, a court may award transitional support for a few months or years while a spouse finishes a degree or training program, then award a smaller amount of maintenance support to supplement the income the newly graduated spouse is now able to earn by working.
Tax Rules For Spousal Support Have Recently Changed
For many years, federal tax laws treated spousal support as income for the spouse receiving help and a tax deduction for the spouse paying the support.
Under the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017, those rules changed. Any spousal support judgment entered on January 1, 2019, or later falls under the new regulations. In these cases, the receiving spouse does not include spousal support payments as income, and the paying spouse may not deduct the payments from their federal taxes.
The federal rule change may cause additional confusion in Oregon. Although the federal rule changed beginning in 2019, Oregon’s tax laws still treated spousal support in the old way: Income to the receiving spouse and a deduction for the paying spouse. As with all spousal support issues, it’s crucial to speak to a lawyer to understand the tax effects of a spousal support decision, as the rules may continue to change.
The attorneys at Gearing Rackner & McGrath help you understand how Oregon’s laws apply to your divorce situation. We can help you make plans and move forward with confidence. To learn more, contact us today.