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Alimony is Unpredictable

“Got those alimony blues
An I sure got to pay some dues”

-T. Bone Walker, 1975

Long-Term Marriage

In 2014, after over thirty years of marriage, Leslie and Harry Dow divorced. For most of the marriage Leslie worked at a preschool earning up to $21 per hour.  In 2010, however, she and her husband agreed she would quit her job to spend more time with their grandchildren. Throughout the marriage Harry worked as a union carpenter but lost his job in 2013.

At the time of the divorce, because Harry did not have a job, the judge did not order him to pay alimony. However, they agreed that once he got a job, Leslie could request alimony.

Ex-Husband Starts a New Business

About six months after the parties settled their divorce, Harry started a new business. Leslie then took him to court asking for alimony. Harry argued that the judge should take into account the Leslie used to make $21 per hour, and she had not made efforts to find a job after the divorce.

Should Income be Imputed?

The judge agreed that Leslie had not made a reasonable effort to get a job and support herself. However, the judge said he could not legally “impute” income to her. Impute means to assign income to someone who could be working but is not. The judge interpreted the statute to read that he could impute income to a person who was trying to avoid alimony but could not impute income to a person trying to get alimony. Ultimately, the judge decided to award Leslie $750 per month in alimony for three years.

Yes, Income Can be Imputed in Either Direction

Harry appealed and the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with him that the judge made a mistake. The Supreme Court held that family court judges can impute income in either direction. That is, to either the person paying or receiving alimony. Leslie also argued that even if the judge imputed income to her, it would not have made a difference in the judge’s decision. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the judge’s order suggested he may have made a different decision if he had imputed income to Leslie.

While this case dealt with alimony, the issue of imputed income most often comes up in child support cases. For example, a father may suddenly take a huge pay cut when it comes time to pay child support. In those situations the courts often say that he could have been making more. They will use the income he could be making, not just what he is actually making.

Alimony is Unpredictable

Alimony cases are especially tricky because there are no “guidelines” like there are with child support. Therefore, it can be unpredictable how much alimony a judge will award, and for how long. There are a number of factors but the biggest ones are usually the length of the marriage, and how much the parties make. The longer the marriage, and the greater the difference in income, the more likely a judge will award alimony.