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Divorce 63: Defendant’s spousal support conditioned upon whether plaintiff engages in contract work.

Plaintiff eventually separated from defendant and filed for divorce. The judgment of divorce stated that a spousal support award was not appropriate unless plaintiff engaged in independent contracting work with the government. The order noted that such work appeared to be unlikely but explained that plaintiff’s acceptance of contracting work would result in enough of a disparity of income between the parties to warrant some adjustment.

Spousal Support

Accordingly, the judgment required that plaintiff account for any contracting work accepted after entry of the divorce on October 10, 2019, until December 31, 2024. The judgment calculated alimony on the following sliding scale. If the Plaintiff never again engages in independent contracting working or does not engage in any independent contracting work until 2025, he will not be required to pay anything as spousal support.

Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion by conditioning defendant’s entitlement to spousal support on whether plaintiff chooses to engage in contract work. Defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to impute income to plaintiff for purposes of spousal support because he had the ability to earn a substantial amount of money through contract work and had a history of doing so.

Spousal Support Factors

The object in awarding spousal support is to balance the incomes and needs of the parties so that neither will be impoverished; spousal support is to be based on what is just and reasonable under the circumstances of the case. Spousal support does not follow a strict formula.

In deciding whether to award spousal support, trial courts should consider the following factors:

(1) the past relations and conduct of the parties,

(2) the length of the marriage,

(3) the abilities of the parties to work,

(4) the source and amount of property awarded to the parties,

(5) the parties’ ages,

(6) the abilities of the parties to pay alimony,

(7) the present situation of the parties,

(8) the needs of the parties,

(9) the parties’ health,

(10) the prior standard of living of the parties,

(11) contributions of the parties to the joint estate,

(12) a party’s fault in causing the divorce,

(13) the effect of cohabitation on a party’s financial status, and

(14) general principles of equity

Trial Court

The court determined that defendant, if she chose to remain in her current situation, would be able to support herself from revenue obtained by operating the store and renting at least one of her residences.

The trial court acknowledged plaintiff’s earning potential and accordingly ordered that a percentage of any contracting revenue made by plaintiff be paid to defendant for the next several years. Notably, plaintiff testified at trial that the contract jobs were very demanding and that they required him to work long hours away from home for several weeks at a time. As a retiree from the military, he testified that he did not desire to continue to do the amount of work these optional contracts demanded. Therefore, the trial court’s decision not to impute income to the work to render it essentially an obligation, and instead to condition spousal support payments on whether plaintiff chose to accept contract work was not outside the range of reasonable outcomes.

Helping You Make Sense of Support Formulas

If you feel you are paying too much or not receiving enough, our lawyers have successfully helped many clients receive support modifications. We can use our experience and knowledge of family law to help you determine if this is the right choice for you.

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