Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Knowing the Signs

Divorce changes everything. 

From your daily life and marital home, to the custody of your children and property division, no stone is left unturned during a marriage dissolution. Whether you’re in the midst of a divorce or just considering a separation, know that the dust will eventually settle again. When it does, your life just might look very different. 

Spousal support and child support are both tools of the court used in divorce proceedings to help ease the transition into ex-spouses with new life circumstances. If, for example, you enjoyed a certain standard of living during your marriage or have a lower earning capacity than your former partner, those elements will be considered into post-divorce payment procedures. 

Subsequently, no two spousal or child support agreements are the same. Dive into the intricacies of New Mexico’s divorce laws, the factors that influence payment types and amounts, and how prenups can — or can’t — affect your post-marriage arrangements below. 

Navigating a divorce is difficult, but navigating it with newfound knowledge and a competent, experienced legal team can save you time, money, and loads of stress. 

What is spousal support? 

The phrase spousal support refers to the set amount of money one spouse is required to pay the other after the marriage has ended. Also known as alimony, spousal support payments are legally enforceable contracts determined and awarded by the court.

While some states have set formulas for determining alimony payments, New Mexico does not. Instead, divorces are considered individually, and a number of requirements must be met before an spousal support payment plan would be considered appropriate. 

Despite popular misconceptions, not every divorce will require spousal support payments, and not every spousal support payment is long term. 

How is spousal support decided? 

The judge assigned to your divorce proceedings will weigh a number of factors before instituting an alimony arrangement. Everything from the health and wellbeing of each spouse to the individually owned assets determined in the property division process can come into play. Partnering with a knowledgeable legal team can steer the course of your divorce proceedings and help establish a spousal support payment plan that is equitable to both parties.

Three of the major points reviewed by the courts are: 

  1. Length of marriageAlimony payments are typically reserved for longer relationships. Many attorneys and state officials consider a 10-year marriage to be a ‘long’ relationship, and passing the 20 year mark means alimony payments are highly likely. Marriages dissolved in under 5 years will, most often, not require spousal support from either party.
  2. Current and future earnings – When alimony is deemed necessary by the court, the spouse with a higher income, significant assets, or greater earning capacity will likely be the one making payments. In the case of a longer marriage where neither spouse makes significantly more than the other it is unlikely that spousal support will be required.
  3. Reasonable need – If one spouse has a lower income or earning capacity due to illness, lack of education, or similar extenuating circumstances, this demonstrates a reasonable need for support payments. Transitional or rehabilitative alimony may be put in place to support the lower income earner in their journey to support themselves financially. 

How long do spousal support payments last?

There are several possibilities when it comes to calculating the duration of spousal support payments. 

  1. Short term alimony – rehabilitative or transitional. 
  2. Long term alimony – indefinite or defined. 
  3. Lump sum alimony – a buyout of long-term alimony.

Spousal support payments designed to help one spouse reach financial stability are, by nature, short-term. They are intended to support the furthering of education and professional development so the lower earner may reach self-sufficiency. 

In New Mexico, long-term alimony arrangements do exist and are awarded by the courts, but typically only to marriages of 20+ years or longer with significant financial disparity between the spouses. A longer spousal support agreement can come in the form of monthly payments or a lump sum deposit that covers present and future financial needs. 

What doesn’t affect spousal support arrangements?

Despite the extensive investigation into a divorcing couple’s lifestyle and income, there are a few factors that are not weighed when establishing spousal support. 

New Mexico is a no-fault divorce state, which means that no form of indecency, infidelity, or invalidation of marriage vows is taken into consideration during property division or alimony procedures. While a prenup can prevent some difficulties of the divorce process by delineating individual assets, it does not immutably authorize spousal support, child support, or child custody agreements. 

What is child support? 

After the custody of a couple’s children is determined, child support plans are enacted by the court system. Child support is similar to alimony in that one parent is required to pay an established amount to the other on a recurring basis. Most often, the parent with primary custody is considered the custodian and receives the funds, while the noncustodial parent makes the payment. 

However, child support does differ from alimony in a number of ways. For example, it must only be used to cover the basic living expenses of the child or children clothing, shelter, education, healthcare costs and quality of life costs, like school supplies and extracurricular fees. Funds leftover from the monthly child support payment must be saved for the future use of the child as well. 

Child support can also be taken directly from the income of the noncustodial parent to ensure the financial responsibility of raising a child is shared between both ex-spouses. 

How is child support determined?

Child support laws vary from state to state, making it difficult to establish consistency among the varying regulations. This financial obligation, like spousal support, can be outlined but not legally solidified in a prenup or postnuptial arrangement. If you’re divorcing someone with whom you have a child or children, consulting an accomplished legal team is imperative, especially if they live in another state or plan to move. 

Child support payments are decided based on the income of each spouse. While custody does often play a role, due to the increased time and financial commitment of the custodian, it’s not always the determining factor. 

It can be intimidating to maneuver through the state-specific laws on spousal and child support during a divorce proceeding that is already complicated, emotional, and taxing.

Thankfully, there’s no need to do it alone — the compassionate team of family law attorneys at Sutherland are here to guide you through the process and help you start a new chapter in your life.