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Alimony in Oregon: The Basics

In Oregon, alimony is legally and more commonly referred to as “spousal support” or “spousal maintenance”. The Oregon divorce laws that encompass alimony are outlined in the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS), primarily in Section 107.105, and also in 107 sub-sections 036,105,135,136 and 412. Alimony is typically agreed upon between the spouses. Even if the issue is being litigated, the couple still ultimately needs to agree upon the support amount their attorneys are recommending, otherwise alimony is ordered during a trial through a decision by the court.

Oregon is unique regarding alimony; it is one of the few States that legally adheres to a “no fault divorce.” In other words, the wrongdoing of one spouse, regardless of the extent of their negative behaviors or character, will not be considered as a “cause” of the divorce, and thus will not be factored-in when the court determines an equitable distribution of assets and debts and the amount of spousal support. While you can solely or jointly initiate a divorce, the only legal “cause” for divorce in Oregon is: “Irreconcilable differences between the parties resulting in the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.”

The Challenge of Alimony

Alimony is the most frequently disputed, and often one of the most highly charged issues in a divorce. It’s no surprise that the monetary payments made from one spouse to another after a divorce is an issue that can elicit considerable fear, resentment, abandonment and mistrust while the terms of the divorce are being sorted out. There is usually discomfort and emotional hardship experienced by the payer of the alimony, particularly in situations where they did not want the divorce, or feel betrayed or used in some way. However, there is often great distress on the receiver of the alimony, not wanting to be dependent upon, feel guilty towards, or be resented by their former spouse, yet needing to protect their economic survival.

Despite the inherent difficulties, if you have been married for more than a couple of years, alimony will mostly likely be an issue that is discussed and negotiated as part of the divorce settlement when there is a disparity in incomes between spouses.

The Purpose of Alimony

The overall purpose of alimony is to increase the longer-term financial independence of both people in a divorce. It is generally thought of as a way to mitigate the disparate financial impacts of divorce by providing the unemployed or lower-wage earning person enough resources to be economically stable and work towards financial independence. Another societal lens for alimony is to soften a make more gradual the dramatic difference in standard of living that the lower-wage earning spouse will experience after divorce.

Some of the underlying justification of spousal support is the concept that a marriage is like a business with many essential functions (earning income, parenting, maintaining home, shopping/cooking, paying bills), and that spouses make decisions together (consciously or not) how to manage all the functions. Based on those decisions, if one person in a divorce has a much greater income and earning power than the other for many years to come, alimony is intended to reduce the inequity resulting from these marital decisions.

The Three Types of Alimony in Oregon

There are three distinct types of alimony in Oregon, each with a different purpose, which are summarized below:

Transitional Spousal Support is the most commonly awarded. It is established for a set period of time, and aimed at providing the unemployed or lower wage-earning spouse financial support that allows them to seek addition education or training to become more employable and increase their earning capacity. In multi-year spousal support cases, there may be one or more decreases in the support, or “step-downs,” with the presumption that the person receiving support is gradually increasing their income over time.

Compensatory Spousal Support is precisely as the name implies. It is financial support considered as “compensation” when one party made significant financial or other contributions to the education, training, career or earning capacity of their spouse, resulting in the spouse’s amplified earning power. An example is one person working full time as a teacher to pay the household bills or supporting their spouse by being the person primarily caring for the home and children while their spouse spent several years fully devoted to medical school and residency. Upon divorce, the spouse who was the teacher may be awarded compensatory spousal support from the substantially higher wage-earning doctor.

Spousal Maintenance is a longer duration form of alimony in Oregon that is considered when a marriage was long term and one party does not have the ability to support themselves (and it is not reasonable for them to obtain the training or education to do so.) This type of support is common for marriages stretching a few decades, when spouses are close to retirement age, or when one spouse has health conditions that increase their expenses and limit their capacity to work.

For many divorcing couples in Oregon, the type of alimony that most accurately addresses the history of their marriage is clear-cut. However, it is murky for in some cases, and the settlement or court order may include more than one type of spousal support. If you are uncertain what category applies to your situation, consider having a consultation with a divorce lawyer.

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In determining the amount of alimony, the Oregon court considers the duration of the marriage, the recipient's education, current skills and previous employment experience, the financial needs and resources available for each party, the tax consequences of paying or receiving alimony, and the financial responsibility for children. The court may consider other factors deemed relevant to make a ruling on support that it considers just and equitable.
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