Step One: Find a Financial Neutral
One of the best ways to approach the alimony conversation is with a financial neutral who can crunch the numbers with both parties. In a collaborative divorce, we often include financial neutral in the process who can assist with budgeting, valuing assets, and showing projections of each spouse’s needs. In my mediation practice, I will often suggest having a CPA or other professional be part of the process for the same purpose. Having financial neutrals in the room can take some of the emotion out of the process, and changes the focus to making sure both parties will continue to be financially stable after the divorce.
Plan for an Off-Ramp
Many spouses who receive alimony do not want to be dependent upon their ex. If this is articulated to the spouse who will be paying, the conversation can then focus on what the person asking for alimony needs in order to be self-sufficient, and a determination of how long that might take. Alimony can be structured so that it decreases over time, giving the person receiving it an understanding that they will need to take steps to make up the difference to meet their expenses. This “off-ramp” style approach also helps the spouse paying alimony, as they will understand that they will not be paying forever because there is an incentive for the other spouse to be more self-supporting.
Consider an Alimony Buyout
For some spouses, writing that check each week or month can be difficult. In cases like this, it may make more sense to do an alimony buyout. This might be done via the transfer of certain assets, or through writing one large check rather than sending one weekly.
One thing to consider: there is a risk for the payor is that they may overpay alimony. For example, if you live in New Jersey, where I practice, and you are paying alimony and your ex remarries or cohabitates, alimony would be terminated or at least suspended. If you have already paid a lump sum of alimony or assets, and your ex-spouse remarries six months later, you likely will not get that money back. But, if the spouse paying alimony is willing to take the risk, it may be a way to approach the alimony conversation.
When the Wife is Asked to Pay
One of the tougher conversations is when the wife is the person being asked to pay alimony. Due to cultural norms and societal expectations, many women have an objection to paying alimony to their ex-husband. Some men are hesitant to ask because they believe it makes them seem weak or lessens their masculinity. For others, it is a feeling of entitlement rather than a method of allowing them to get back on their feet.
In my practice, I do find it is still a greater percentage of men paying alimony to their ex-wife. But, considering cultural norms and societal expectations is important. And the same suggestions for approaching the alimony discussion apply here: involve a financial neutral, consider an off-ramp or a buyout, and focus on helping the paying spouse understand why alimony is necessary.
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When Discussing Child Support, Focus on Stability for the Child(ren)
If there are children, the conversation should be focused on their stability and needs rather than the spouses’. For example, I may ask the spouse to be asked to pay alimony if they want their child(ren) to have a comfortable home if they want them to live in a good school district if they want them riding in a safe car. Typically, the spouse will say “of course.” I then ask how they think their spouse will be able to afford that lifestyle – the lifestyle both parents want for their children – without alimony. By helping the paying spouse understand that the money is not being used for frivolous things, but for practical expenses like shelter, healthy food, and a car, it makes the conversation a little easier.