How is Spousal Support Determined in Oregon?

Picture of somebody’s monthly budget, a key component for determining spousal support in Oregon

You have determined that spousal support will be an issue to be addressed in your divorce, and have a strong prediction about which of the three types of alimony in Oregon applies to your situation. You’re probably now wondering “What is a reasonable amount of spousal support?”, for which there are unfortunately no quick and easy answers.

The Main Components of Spousal Support

There are three main elements to be figured out as part of a standard spousal support settlement. The amount per month, the duration (number of months), and the criteria for termination (what will end the support). Oregon spousal support orders must be written to end upon the death of the payer, although some spouses decide on additional circumstances which would trigger the end of the support. There are related details to specify, such as the manner of payment, day of month to be paid, and life insurance for the payer that covers the remaining amount of the support. There are circumstances where spouses may negotiate to do a one-time lump sum “property settlement payment” in lieu of paying monthly spousal support.

The Factors Considered in Oregon Spousal Support

There are several factors the courts consider when making a spousal support ruling. The main factors that are relevant to all three types of support (transitional, compensatory, and maintenance) are summarized as:

  • the length of the marriage
  • both spouses’ financial needs and resources
  • the requesting spouse’s work experience, employment skills, and income potential
  • which spouse has custody of the child(ren) and which spouse pays child support

If your situation falls into the category of “compensatory support,” the court will also be looking closely at the amount and nature of the spousal contribution made to the higher wage-earner, and how much this contribution has already benefited each of you in the marriage. If your marriage circumstances are oriented more towards “spousal maintenance”, the court may also consider the standard of living during a marriage, as well as the age and physical, mental and emotional health of each spouse.

While the Oregon courts historically considered how each spouse’s taxes would be affected by the spousal support, that is no longer relevant, as the tax code changes taking affect in January, 2019 rendered spousal support a non-taxable event.

The Main Approaches for Determining Spousal Support

Unlike child support in Oregon, there is no official calculator for figuring out a fair spousal support arrangement. Furthermore, the range of factors legally considered leaves a lot of “grey areas” and lends complexity to any attempt at a simple calculation. The process of determining a fair and reasonable spousal support settlement amount in Oregon may differ, depending on the divorce professional assisting you. Some of the approaches are:

  1. Needs and Resources. One of the benefits of mediation is that the environment and structure allows for direct, respectful and empowered conversation between parties. In exploring spousal support parties develop accurate future monthly budgets to assess what resources are needed and available for each spouse’s economic stability. The spouse requesting support can research the costs of additional job training or education that is needed to enhance their earning capacity, and negotiate proposals from these needs and goals, with clear understanding of what is available from the paying spouse’s budget.
  2. Income-Based Formulas. Once all of the spousal support factors are analyzed, the predictions and bargaining positions taken by many litigating family law attorneys are based on the history of case law; in other words, what is the historical trend for how local trial court family court judges have ruled in divorce circumstances similar to yours. This is often in the form of a fraction of the number of years married (for duration), and a calculation based on a percentage of the difference in gross incomes of the spouses (for amount).
  3. Other Tools. Some Oregon counties have had spousal and child support award data collected from family court trials during periods of time, which can provide examples of what the court considered fair with other families in similar divorce circumstances. You can also find examples of “spousal support calculators” online, although their accuracy is questionable due to the geography (different states have different alimony amounts) and because of the number factors considered for spousal support in Oregon. Financial Planners and CDFAs (Certified Divorce Financial Analysts) can also help you figure out how much different spousal support options could impact each spouse’s longer-term financial wealth and stability.

Can Our Spousal Support be Modified in the Future?

In Oregon, either spouse (or attorney representing them) can file a motion asking the court to modify or end spousal support at any time in the future. However, Oregon courts will only grant this modification if there has been a substantial change in the financial circumstances of either or both spouses.

In general, an unexpected income drop (and decreased ability to pay support at the same level) for the person paying support will more likely be considered a substantial change in financial circumstance than will be an unexpected rise in the income of the person receiving support; after all, their longer-term enhanced financial independence is the underlying goal of most spousal support orders. Spousal support orders defined as “compensatory” are even harder to modify, requiring a more severe decrease in the paying spouse’s ability to be considered by the court.

Read more about how alimony works.