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Figuring Out Alimony: Some Basic Criteria


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Figuring Out Alimony: Some Basic Criteria

In many divorces, alimony and child support create the most anxiety for couples who want to avoid court and negotiate their own settlement.  The minimum amounts required for child support are quite specific and easy to calculate for most families.  This is because there are mandatory child support schedules or guidelines that have to be used.  Only in rare circumstances is it permissible for child support to be lower than the guidelines' minimum.  With alimony, by contrast, there is no specific formula, calculator, or guidelines.  
Jerry and Elaine were married for six years when they decided to get a divorce.  Elaine was worried about supporting herself and their two children.  Elaine was able to go online and calculate child support based on the state’s guidelines.  She worried, though, whether Jerry would agree to pay alimony. During the marriage, Elaine worked to put Jerry through school.  Because of his education, Jerry was able to get a job that pays $72,000 a year.  Elaine was a stay-at-home mom for two years prior to the divorce. After they separated, Elaine got a part-time job where she will earn about $12.00 per hour. Based on the state guidelines, Jerry agreed to pay $1,200 per month for child support.  Understandably, Elaine was worried about making ends meet each month.  While Jerry appreciated that Elaine needed his help, he wanted to keep enough of his paycheck to pay his own bills and meet his basic needs, along with making sure that he stayed current on his child support each month.

Jerry and Elaine could not agree on how to calculate alimony.  They both consulted with separate attorneys, but decided to hold off getting the attorneys involved and try mediation.  During the first session, the mediator reviewed some basic criteria commonly used in determining a fair amount and reasonable duration (in months or years) for alimony:

1.        Elaine’s financial condition and needs. This includes her monthly debts and obligations that she must pay, and the availability of funds to pay these debts.

2.        Elaine’s earning capacity or ability to produce income. This includes income received or available from all sources, past employment history, ability or inability to work, passive income from investments, and the like.

3.        Jerry’s ability to pay alimony. This includes not just Jerry’s monthly income, but a consideration of his debts and obligations that he must pay.

4.        The length of the marriage. The longer the marriage, the greater the likelihood of an alimony award.  And the duration (in months or years) for alimony should not exceed the length of the marriage.

5.        Standard of living.  The parties should consider the standard of living that they established during the marriage.  One approach is to try and equalize the parties' respective standards of living.

Jerry and Elaine also learned that alimony may be reviewed and modified if conditions change and that alimony terminates automatically if Elaine remarries. 

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We are divorce mediation experts, serving families throughout Utah.  For a free initial consultation, or to answer your questions about mediation or the divorce process in Utah, please call us at (801) 633-1361, or visit