If you could do anything, what would you do? Because, as depressing as it is sometimes to think about getting a divorce, you’re finally going to have the opportunity to do whatever you wish you would have done earlier on in your life. Do you want to write a book? Go back to school? Join a gym? Take up rock climbing? Travel with a girlfriend? Learn how to cook Indian food? Whatever it is, you suddenly have a brand new chance to do things with your life that you probably started to think you’d never have the opportunity to try. Whether you’re interested in a new job or a new hobby or even just an extra 15 minutes a day to read that book that has been gathering dust on your bookshelf, you’re going to have an opportunity now to re-think how you’ve lived your life in the past and plan for a brand new future.
I know, I know. It’s not all fun and exciting and planning for new things. Some of it is hard, heart wrenching, and complicated. Some of it makes you cry and binge eat Ben and Jerry’s. But, ultimately, you’re going to be out of a situation that made you unhappy, and you’re going to have a chance to start over again.
I’ve seen a lot of women go through divorce, and I can tell you that it’s often a life altering event in more positive ways than you might think (especially if you’re just getting started). Sure, it’s going to be difficult in a lot of ways, too, but I’d really like to take a moment to concentrate on some of the ways you can try to make your divorce a much more positive experience.
Not everyone qualifies to receive spousal support, but, for the women who do, it can be a practical, financial first step towards crafting a new, more independent future. It may sound a little counterintuitive. How can money from your ex spouse make you feel independent? For a lot of women, it’s a string that continues to keep them attached to a man they’d rather walk away from, free and clear.
I understand that thought process, but I don’t think that’s how you should think of it. The law isn’t particularly generous and if you’re entitled to receive spousal support, it’s because you deserve to receive it. (Not sure whether you’ll receive support? Click here for more information.) You deserve to receive it because you made so many valuable contributions to the marriage. Those contributions can be monetary, like whatever money you earned at work. They can also be nonmonetary. The nonmonetary things you did during the marriage, like shopping for groceries, preparing meals, doing laundry, helping kids with homework, running carpools, and generally juggling all the day to day issues that came up with respect to the children and the house, also contributed to the strength of your marriage. All the things that you did to help your family has a value attached to it.
If you’re like most women, you probably cut back your career to some degree for the sake of your family. Whether you stayed at home, worked part time, or stayed in a lower paying position because of the flexibility it afforded you, you did all of those things to benefit your husband and children. Chances are, your husband didn’t have to make the same cut backs that you did. Now, you’re talking about divorcing, and, financially at least, he is in a more secure position than you.
I said it before, but I’m going to say it again because I think you need to hear it. If you qualify for spousal support, it’s because you deserve it. You’ve earned it, and you should take it, because it’s a great way for women (who would otherwise be struggling) to get a little leg up. If you’re still worried that it’s going to make you feel dependent, rather than independent, consider working up your spousal support award in a way that simultaneously accomplishes your goals and makes you feel a little better about needing the extra help.
Permanent Spousal Support
Permanent spousal support is usually reserved for women who have been in long term marriages (normally, twenty years or more). Permanent spousal support is a monthly sum of money that the recipient spouse receives until either spouse dies, until the recipient spouse remarries, or until the recipient spouse cohabitates (lives together like a married couple) with another person for a period of one year or more.
This is traditionally what you think of when you think of spousal support, because it’s a monthly payment from a former spouse.
Defined Duration Spousal Support
Spousal support can also work in the same way (where money is received monthly), but be for a limited amount of time. Sometimes, we see spousal support for half the length of the marriage (usually in mid-length marriages, anywhere from six to eighteen years or so), but it can be awarded for any period of time.
There’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to spousal support. It’s not at all like child support. How much child support you receive is based off of a pretty strict formula, and how long you receive it depends on how long it’ll be until your child turns 18 or graduates from high school. Spousal support isn’t that way at all. There’s no formula (at least, not in the Hampton Roads area) to use, and there’s no law that tells us exactly how long any particular person is entitled to receive support.
So how do we decide how much spousal support a person might receive, or how long they might receive it? Well, it can happen in one of two ways: (1) it’s a negotiated result between the clients and their attorneys, or (2) the judge orders support after hearing testimony and evidence from the attorneys on both sides.
If you’re negotiating support (like most people), you have the freedom to suggest that your spousal support award be structured in whatever way works best for you. That’s why I encourage you to do some thinking about what it is you’d like to do once your divorce is finalized. It’s important to think about it before your final divorce decree is entered, because beforehand you have the opportunity to structure things so that you are able to meet your goals. Think seriously about it now, and bring that conversation to your attorney so that the two of you can discuss a spousal support arrangement that will help you do the things you’d like to do when you’re ready to start over.
Not sure where to start? Well, I’ve talked a little bit so far about how spousal support is generally handled, but that doesn’t mean that’s how your spousal support award has to be structured. Feel free to think about it and work with your attorney to structure a system that is acceptable to your husband and gives you the freedom to start over and become more independent.
Let’s discuss some more alternatives.
Your spousal support award can be structured just so that it helps you get back on your feet again, particularly if what you’d really like to do now that you have a chance to start over is go back to school.
The theory here is that you get support for a certain period of time that is earmarked for a specific purpose, like returning to school to get a degree. Your husband may agree to provide funding for tuition at a technical, trade, or four year university for a period of time with the understanding that the support ends after you accomplish your goal (or after a specific period of time) and become able to be self-supporting.
One of the extra advantages of rehabilitative support is that it’s generally more attractive to husbands (who, predictably, don’t really like to have to pay monthly support to their ex-wives). Not only that, but for women who are unhappy about having to accept financial support from their husbands (but have to admit that it would be difficult to start out without a little extra assistance), this feels a little better, too. It’s an investment in a future that is more satisfying, and it also helps give you the means to provide for yourself in the future, rather than depending on someone else to do it for you.
Other options with spousal support…
Some people prefer to structure things still differently. I have also seen spousal support arrangements where the support is staggered over a period of time. It starts out high, and then gradually decreases over time. Again, like rehabilitative support, this has the extra benefit of being more attractive to a husband (and therefore makes him more likely to sign an agreement that has this kind of provision in it), and provides you with a little extra incentive to use the money to get a brand new start. It gives you more to start out with, which is presumably when you’ll need the support the most, but gradually decreases so that you’re forced to rely on yourself more and more over time. It’s easier to take stepping stones towards financial independence than it is to find yourself all on your own (and at a bigger disadvantage than your former husband) all at once.
Keep in mind that you really do have the freedom to make your own spousal support award work for you and your unique circumstances. Don’t turn away spousal support that you’re otherwise entitled to because it makes you feel badly. Use it as a game changer. Take the support you’re entitled to receive, and use it to make yourself better, stronger, and smarter. It will help your self esteem, invest you in a worthwhile cause, and, ultimately, make you more independent.
The law doesn’t give you an entitlement to anything unless you really deserve it. If you’re ready to make a change, now is a great time to do it! Take a negative situation and turn it into a life changing opportunity, and you’ll be happy you did. I see a lot of women who go through divorce every single day, and I’m always so impressed to see the transformation from the woman who was in my office at the initial consultation and the one who meets me at the courthouse before we get her final divorce decree entered. You can do it, too.
To find out about your legal entitlements, ask questions about spousal support, or talk about how to structure a spousal support award that takes your unique concerns into consideration, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.