Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2001

Sacrifices may entitle wife to ‘reimbursement’ alimony

January 7, 2001

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No sooner had my husband completed his schooling and become employed than he announced that he did not love me any more and moved out. I am a registered nurse and, during our five-year marriage, I supported him completely and sacrificed to pay for his education. Because all of my earnings went toward his education and our support, I was not able to put money into my retirement plan. But since we have no assets and I am employed, the lawyer I consulted says I will not receive alimony because I earn as much as my husband does. This just doesn't seem fair. Is there anything I can do to at least get repaid for my contributions?

Depending on the law of the state in which you live, you might be entitled to an award of what is called "reimbursement" alimony. A court can compensate you for your expenditures if you prove you have been deprived of a better standard of living in the future based on your contribution toward the support and education of your spouse.

In most states, even if there are assets to be distributed and even if you would not otherwise be entitled to an award of permanent alimony, the court can require your spouse to reimburse you for the financial contributions you made to assist him in completing his education or securing his professional license.

The amount of reimbursement alimony you may receive will be based on the relevant factors you can prove, including the amount of your contributions, your lost economic opportunities, and the length of the marriage. Generally, an award of reimbursement alimony will consider all financial contributions, not only toward education, but also toward household expenses.

My wife of 12 years (age 34) worked in my business and is quite capable of employment. However, since we separated, based on the advice of her lawyer, she has refused to go to work. I am not interested in paying her alimony for the rest of my life when she is healthy and as capable of working as I am. I have offered rehabilitative alimony as a short-term option, but she has turned it down and has told me she would punish me financially. Is there something I am missing?

We think so. Rehabilitative alimony is awarded to encourage a dependent spouse to become self-supporting after a divorce, but is granted only under exceptional circumstances, including evidence that convinces the court your spouse will likely be self-sufficient when the ordered payments end. If a spouse has been out of the job market over the course of a long marriage, long-term alimony is a pretty sure bet. But this does not seem to be the case here.

That your wife is not seeking employment in an effort to punish you financially should not float in most courts. Based on the law of most states, if a spouse is able to work and refuses to do so, the amount he or she could earn will be imputed to him or her, just as if he or she was employed. We suggest you find evidence that jobs meeting the description of your wife's skills and experience are available and what they pay.

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