Alimony/spousal support is one of the most difficult issues to negotiate. The best way to approach the topic with your spouse depends on your specific situation. Here are four ideas to help you.
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, lawyers and mediators often include a financial neutral in the process who can assist with budgeting, valuing assets, and showing projections of each spouse’s needs. A CPA or other professional could be part of the process for this purpose.
Having a financial neutral in the room removes some of the emotion from the process and changes the focus to financial stability for both parties 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 it decreases over time, giving the recipient 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 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 a 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 weekly checks.
One thing to consider: There is a risk that the payor may overpay alimony. For example, if you pay alimony in New Jersey and your ex remarries or cohabitates, alimony would be terminated, or at least suspended. If you have already paid a lump sum and your ex-spouse remarries six months later, you are unlikely to get that money back.
When the wife is asked to pay
Sometimes, the wife is asked to pay alimony. Due to cultural norms and societal expectations, many women object to paying alimony to their ex-husbands. Further, some men hesitate to ask because it makes them feel weak or less masculine.
What’s more, in some situations, men seek alimony based on a feeling of entitlement rather than the need to get back on their feet.
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 children are involved, the conversation should focus on their stability and needs rather than the needs of the spouses.
For example, a spouse may be asked to pay alimony if they want their child(ren) to have a comfortable home, a good school district, and a safe car to ride in. Typically, the spouse will say, “Of course.” The conversation can then shift to how the alimony recipient will eventually be able to afford that lifestyle — the lifestyle both parents want for their children — without alimony.
Helping the paying spouse understand that the money is being used for practical expenses (shelter, healthy food, safe transportation) rather than frivolous things can make the conversation a little easier.