Oklahoma City Family Law Center
Trends in defining "Fair Divorce" Settlements
There are many misconceptions surrounding what may constitute a “fair” divorce settlement this day in age. Disputes over what spouses feel the other “owes” to them based on various misbehaviors, the amount of money or work that has been put into the marriage both inside and outside the walls of the home, or time spent with children are just some of the factors that parties believe will weigh heavily on the divorce settlement.
According to an article on Forbes.com, many times the “fairness” of the situation is difficult to assess from the first-person standpoint of the parties. Of course, divorce involves a multitude of heated emotions, and given the intensity of the situation and newfound contempt for your soon-to-be-ex, attempts to be “fair” or “reasonable” are hard to come by. More often than not, your spouse has now become the enemy who is only after your money, or the person withholding from you only what you’re entitled to as someone who participated in this marriage.
Kotlikoff, author of the above-mentioned Forbes.com article, believes that the best way to even the odds in a divorce is to look to the future and total the current incomes of the parties to determine future benefits. Although this approach might be objectively fair, it fails to consider the realities of life. One cannot simply award indefinite alimony and factor that into future income. One or both of the parties may return to school and procure a substantially higher income (not to mention the debt attached thereto). Therefore, this does not seem to be the best measurement of fairness.
Cathy Meyer on About.com takes a more realistic approach, providing examples of what she believes to be a fair divorce settlement while expressly disclaiming a “cookie-cutter” answer: she states that every case and every divorce is different, so there will never be one “right” answer.
The truth is that there are only a few isolated factors that Courts strongly consider when determining property division and support settlements. Alimony, for instance, is based primarily on two distinct concepts: 1) The obligor’s ability to pay and 2) The receiving spouse’s need for support. This essentially means that, if one spouse makes significantly more money than the other and has been supporting the other for one reason or another (such as in exchange for childcare and housekeeping duties), and the other spouse makes much less and has been living in reliance on that support, some amount in a sum certain will likely be awarded.
However, alimony is not meant to last forever. Oklahoma law requires that support awards be granted in a sum certain, meaning that at the time the Court orders the judgment, an absolute amount of support can be determined at that very moment.
The point and purpose of alimony is to keep the parties in substantially the same position financially as when they were married and to allow the receiving spouse time to improve their position, before the standard of living to which they were accustomed disappears entirely.
As far as property division is concerned, the biggest factors are whether things were owned before or after marriage as opposed to having been acquired during marriage. Separate property is just that – separate. Anything brought into the marriage by you is yours. On the other hand, anything acquired during marriage – your new car from 6 months ago, the time share in Florida, etc. – will be marital property and thus subject to equitable distribution by the Court, because your spouse has an interest in that property.
If you have minor children, there’s also an issue of child support. Child support in Oklahoma is determined based on gross monthly income of the parties, as well as the visitation schedule of the children. If the parties are under a shared parenting plan, child support payments will be minimal since the child should be spending substantially the same amount of time per year with each parent. In a standard visitation situation, which usually involves every-other-weekend visitation, a child support amount will be higher. It also increases and decreases based on amount of income and disparity between mom and dad’s incomes (for example, if Dad makes $5000 a month and Mom only makes $2000, obviously child support will be higher; however, if both make $2000 a month and spend substantially equal time with the children, child support will be a nominal amount).
The bottom line is that “fairness” in divorce settlements ultimately comes down to a question of equity, and attempts by courts to leave the parties in substantially similar positions. What does that mean for you? Hire a family law attorney who actually understands that law in your jurisdiction. That is the only way to achieve the closest possible result to a “fair” divorce. Call Lawrence Goodwin when you need an Oklahoma City divorce attorney or Oklahoma City family lawyer at 405-606-8713.