In long term marriages, it is not uncommon for one spouse to cease working and serve as a homemaker. When these marriages end, the courts often award alimony. Sometimes, these awards can extend for a very long time, or even indefinitely. A recent Oregon case discusses an award that was expected to extend into the paying spouse’s possible retirement years.
The husband was a doctor. When he was 60, he left the practice he was working in to open his own practice. This required a $1 million loan, but generated income of approximately $27,000 a month by the time of the divorce trial three years later. He also had $13,000 a month additional income from investments, rentals, and capital gains. The wife had stopped working 19 years before the divorce trial. She had the capacity to earn $2,200 a month when she reentered the workforce. To continue her lifestyle as she had during the marriage would require an additional $5,000 to $7,000 a month.
The court divided the parties’ assets and awarded child support. It also ordered alimony, stepping down from $7,500 a month in the six months after trial to $5,500 a month from 2017 to 2020, when the husband would be 72 years old. The wife asked the court to reconsider its decision, and the court extended support at $4,000 a month to 2027, when the husband would be 79. The husband appealed the extension.
The Court of Appeals approved the trial judge’s ruling. The husband first argued that there was no evidence the husband intended to work until he was nearly 80. The Court of Appeals noted that the husband had told the wife that he intended to work either until he died, or at least into his seventies to support their son, who was 17 at the time of the divorce, that the husband had invested in a new practice at age 60, and that the practice was increasingly profitable. That was enough to support a finding that the husband intended to continue working into retirement age.
The husband’s second argument is more important. He wanted a ruling that the court could not award support to require him to work into his late seventies. The Court of Appeals noted that trial judges have fairly wide discretion in awarding alimony, and that the important factors, including the length of the marriage, the age of the spouses, the spouses’ earnings, and the lifestyle during the marriage, were such that the award was not unreasonable. The husband acknowledged that he was unusually successful, and the marriage had been long enough to keep the wife out of the workforce for 18 years. Both the trial judge and the Court of Appeals also noted that if the husband in good faith retired unexpectedly, that would be grounds to consider a modification of alimony. As a result, the husband was not stuck working, but would have the opportunity to retire.
If you think you need alimony into your spouse’s retirement years, you’ll probably have to prove your spouse probably won’t retire. On the other hand, if you want to retire but your spouse is asking for long alimony, you may have to prove your retirement is not just to spite your spouse. In either situation, you probably should talk to a lawyer and be prepared to bring as much evidence as you can regarding retirement plans.
Similarly, if you have been ordered to pay alimony for a long time and you want to retire, it may be necessary to show that you have a good reason. One possibility may be to negotiate a termination date, which may cost some additional money in the short term until you do retire. You’re more likely to get your ex-spouse to cooperate if you put money on the table or if you can show a serious unexpected circumstance. An opinion from a lawyer may be helpful.