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Divorce and spousal support: the basics

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An unspoken principle runs through divorce law in Ohio: any economic misery created by a divorce should be shared equally, at least until the parties have an opportunity to fix its cause.

What does that mean? It means that courts generally will not permit a high earning spouse to live in relative luxury while a low earning spouse lives in relative poverty. The bottom line is this: courts often reduce a difference in income between the two households for a period of time by the sensible use of spousal support and child support.

But let’s back up a little. It’s not just current income. Ohio law outlines more than a dozen elements courts must consider to determine whether and how much spousal support should be paid. Some of them are:

  • income each party has from any source, whether taxable or not;
  • income each party is capable of earning if fully employed;
  • ages of the parties, as well as their physical, mental, and emotional conditions;
  • expected retirement benefits of the parties;
  • duration of the marriage;
  • standard of living established during the marriage.

Those are the basics. But courts often consider the whole life situation— for instance, whether one spouse has more limited employment opportunities because of education or because of past or present domestic responsibilities. They may look at what one spouse contributed to the education or earning ability of the other in the past. Or they may consider what a spouse might require in the near future in order to get the education or training needed for employment. Courts review the assets and liabilities of each party and the tax consequences of spousal support. And there are other factors a court may consider relevant.

Ohio law does not give a mandatory formula for calculating spousal support as it does for child support. But most county courts have developed consistent approaches over time. In some Ohio counties, the most variable factor in spousal support is the period of time it will cover. Many counties award spousal support for a period equal to one-quarter to one-third of the length of the marriage, and in an amount equal to one-third to one-half of the net difference between the parties’ incomes, that is, after consideration of differing tax consequences. For instance, a net income difference of $30,000 in a 20-year marriage could mean spousal support of $10-15,000 a year for seven to ten years.

 
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