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FS-There Are Two Types of Support Explained
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: My husband left three months ago, and is sending just enough each month to cover our expenses considering my income which has gone down. We have not been to court. I am confused about the various implications of getting money to support me and our two children.

Answer: There are two kinds of support: spousal and child. And there are several types of alimony -- temporary, permanent, periodic, lump sum, rehabilitative, and reimbursement – which are determined either by a judge based upon the evidence at a trial or by you and your spouse through an agreement. On the other hand, the amount of child support is generally governed by a statutory formula called “guidelines”. Here are some of the things you should find out about:

1) How long does each type of payment continue in your state and what are the rules about modification should there be economic changes later? Planning for employment options and children's educations should begin now.

2) Make sure you understand the tax consequences of what you are going to pay or receive because it’s too late to plan after the agreement or court order is signed.

3) "Alimony" as defined by your state or in your agreement may not be "Alimony" as defined by the IRS. The wording of your agreement or court order determines whether spousal payments are taxable to the receiving spouse or deductible to the paying spouse.

4) While child support is not taxable to the receiving spouse and is not deductible to the paying spouse, the dependency exemption generally remains with the spouse having primary custody. This exemption can go to one spouse on year and the other the next if there is an agreement and appropriate IRS forms are signed. Non-covered medical expenses may affect your tax situation.

5) If the dependent spouse or a child is disabled, there should be specialized planning after determining which public benefits may be available. A settlement should be structured around these benefits which avoids reimbursement.

6) If the paying spouse becomes disabled or dies, there should be security so that support payments can be continued. Although Social Security benefits may be available, they may not be sufficient or may not continue for a sufficient length of time. This means that you cannot plan to pay for college education with Social Security benefits. Depending on the law of your state, you may be entitled to get life insurance on the paying spouse.

7) Disability, long-term care, and life insurance options should be explored. Since the receiving spouse has an insurable interest in the life of the paying spouse, insurance can be purchased to supplement Social Security or other income should support or alimony payments be terminated or reduced upon the death or disability of the paying spouse.

8) Since future modification of current payments is becoming more prevalent with increases in unemployment, try to address these concerns now.

9) Since anticipated interest and dividend income from property received through the division of assets will affect the amounts of support or alimony either paid or received, find out (a) when the funds will be received and (b) how to invest in a safe fashion to secure the anticipated before you sign anything. If you are forced to spend principal, your return will be reduced.

Since each state has laws that regulate alimony and child support in its court system, you should always check these things out with your lawyer.

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