Georgia divorce: Marital misconduct impacts Georgia alimony awards

Georgia courts have wide discretion in alimony decisions with some restrictions and requirements.

The Georgia laws governing alimony, meaning the payment of financial support from one ex-spouse to the other, give marital misconduct a role in the creation of an alimony award more than those in most other states. Another important feature of Georgia alimony law is the wide discretion given judges (or even juries upon request) to creatively fashion these awards.

First, it should be noted that divorcing parties can negotiate an agreement that governs whether alimony will be paid and the terms of that arrangement. The private agreement can make provisions for alimony that would not otherwise be allowed or likely if the issue went to court for decision. Anyone negotiating alimony should seek able legal counsel to help the client to understand Georgia alimony law and how it is likely to apply to the particular situation.

During the time the divorce is pending before the court, the judge may grant temporary alimony to provide support to the less-well-off spouse (and sometimes to help provide for children) to meet his or her needs until the divorce is over. At the conclusion of the divorce, permanent alimony may be part of the final order. So-called permanent alimony does not necessarily mean it will permanently continue, rather, that it will be paid out after the divorce is final.

Emphasis on marital behavior

At the temporary alimony stage, the judge is given discretion to ask the reason for the parties' split and can thereafter refuse to order temporary alimony.

Georgia law says that a spouse is ineligible for permanent alimony if he or she caused the separation of the married parties by adultery or desertion. Georgia statute also requires the court in an alimony determination to consider evidence of the "factual cause of the separation," regardless of the grounds upon which the divorce is sought or granted. In addition, the court in deciding whether to order alimony is to look at the "conduct of each party toward the other."

These provisions ordering consideration of marital misconduct and even of questionable behavior that does not rise to the level of adultery or desertion are in contrast to those of some other states that order the opposite: that marital misconduct or the reason for divorce may not be considered by the court in alimony decisions.

Other relevant factors

Georgia law authorizes (but does not require) an alimony award based on the needs of the recipient and the ability of the payor to pay. In addition, eight factors must be weighed in deciding how much to order:

  • Marital standard of living
  • Length of marriage
  • Each party's age and "physical and emotional condition"
  • Each of their financial resources
  • If relevant, how long it would take for either party to get enough education or training to find "appropriate employment"
  • Each of their contributions to the marriage, including "services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party"
  • The parties' "condition," including separate assets, earning capacity and fixed debts
  • Anything else the court thinks is "equitable and proper"

This is a broad introduction to Georgia alimony law. Anyone facing the potential need for alimony or who may face an order to pay it should speak with a knowledgeable family lawyer with questions and representation.

The lawyers of Daniels & Rothman, P.C., in Athens represent clients in alimony matters related to divorce and other related situations as well as in a wide array of family law issues throughout the surrounding area.