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The unique standard for alimony awards in Wyoming divorces

On Behalf of | Oct 7, 2019 | Alimony |

At the Law Office of Shelly Kay Flot, PC, in Cheyenne, we represent clients throughout southeastern Wyoming in all aspects of divorce, including issues of alimony, also referred to as spousal support. We may advocate for clients on either side of the issue — whether they seek support or oppose paying it.

First, divorcing parties may negotiate a settlement of the legal issues, including alimony. If no agreement is reached, the judge in the divorce proceeding will make these decisions. And in Wyoming, getting an alimony award in court can be an uphill battle.

Can the potential recipient work? Can the other spouse afford to pay?

The law governing alimony in the Equality State is unique. In a way, it reflects the fierce individualism of its residents in its expectation that when people get divorced, the courts assume that the parties will support themselves if at all possible. It seems fair to say that in a close case of whether someone can work, the judge is more likely to decide that they can, even with some medical limitations.

The Wyoming alimony statute says that the court may order either party to pay reasonable alimony considering the payor’s ability to do so. State courts have elaborated on what is reasonable.

When is alimony reasonable?

For example, in the 2017 Wyoming Supreme Court case of Porter v. Porter, the high court affirmed the trial court’s denial of alimony to the wife, who had asked for $2,000 monthly to be paid for a decade. The judge below decided that the wife had not relied on the husband’s income during the marriage for support since she had worked, and they had kept separate finances.

The Supreme Court sees the role of alimony as a substitution for the support that was received during marriage until the recipient can get on their feet. Here, there was no marital support, so there was no need for a “post-divorce substitute.” The judge also concluded that the wife could work but has “simply chosen not to.”

In addition, the husband had paid temporary alimony during the divorce, which required him to live in a trailer, drive an old vehicle and work four jobs. His debt and expenses were high and little money was left over.

The court explained that an unequal division of property is preferred over alimony so that the parties can be free of one another and start their own, separate lives. In Porter, each spouse got a residence and the wife got a collectible car and part of the husband’s retirement account. The Supreme Court felt the overall situation after the property division and alimony denial was reasonable.

Trial judge’s discretion

Another firm legal principle in a Wyoming alimony case is strong deference to the discretion of the trial judge who had the opportunity to assess the evidence and hear the witnesses testify. Judicial discretion includes making decisions based on “objective criteria” and “sound judgment” about what is right under the unique circumstances of the divorcing parties.

However, the judge’s decision must be reasonable and may not arbitrary or capricious.

This post introduces a complex area of Wyoming law important to most divorcing spouses.

(Porter v. Porter is available on Westlaw at 397 P.3d 196.)