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How to Create an Alimony Structure
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: My husband and I are splitting up after more than 25 years of marriage. Although I live in a “no-fault” state, the reason for our breakup has been his relationship with a woman who works in his office. We have three children, only one of whom is still dependent and in college. I have a degree in education, but have not worked outside the home for 20 years at his insistence. I am 51 years of age and in relatively good health, but the job market does not seem to be kind to women of my age in my situation.

Mostly because of my frugality, we were able to save 15 percent of his salary each year in addition to his retirement. We are debt-free. My lawyer tells me that I will receive alimony that is commensurate with my needs, but that I will not be entitled to receive an amount that allows me to save which was included in our standard of living while we were together. This does not seem to be fair to me, especially based on what I read about women and retirement. He will continue to get salary and retirement increases, and I know that once he retires, he will try to reduce or terminate my support. Is there anything I can do to protect myself?

Answer: The purpose of alimony is to act as a substitute for marital support and to provide for the needs and necessities of life for a former spouse that were established during the marriage. Although the criteria used to establish economic need varies from state to state, courts generally consider each party’s earning capacity, age, health, and education; the length of the marriage; the standard of living during the marriage; the value of the division award given to each; and the support needs. Our research tells us that courts have traditionally not considered a “savings component” as a factor in establishing alimony, taking the position that the accumulation of marital assets brought about by frugality is considered in the equitable division award.

But women face greater challenges in retirement years. Women tend to live longer than men (a 65 year old woman today can expect to live to age 85, while a 65 year old man can expect to live to age 81), yet generally have lower lifetime earnings than men reach retirement with smaller pensions and other assets.

A recent report by the National Economic Council Interagency Working Group on Social Security tells us that many retirees -- especially women -- face their retirement years alone with far less financial security than men. In fact, women have lower retirement incomes and higher rates of poverty than men.

In the late nineties, for example, the median income for elderly unmarried women (widowed, divorced, separated, and never married) was $11,161 as compared to $14,769 for elderly unmarried men, and $29,278 for elderly married couples. And, in that same year, the poverty rate for elderly women was 13.7 percent as opposed to seven percent for men.

According to this report, elderly unmarried women, including widows, receive 51 percent of their total income from Social Security as compared to 39 percent for elderly men and only 36 percent for elderly married couples. Social Security is the only source of income for 25 percent of unmarried women.

Since your Social Security will be comparatively low, we suggest that you include a financial planning component in your divorce planning. Possibly, with these kinds of facts presented by an expert witness, you may be able to sway a judge to look more favorably at your position.

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Separation and Divorce Guidebook
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