Alimony Laws in Oklahoma

By Beverly Bird - Updated October 29, 2018
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All states recognize alimony in some form, although the laws can be stricter in some places than in others and the qualifying rules can sometimes vary across state lines. Most states's divorce statutes conform to some common factors, however. One spouse must typically prove a legitimate need for financial assistance while the other spouse has a documented ability to provide that assistance. Some states consider marital misconduct, and at least one state prohibits a spouse from collecting alimony if he cheated.

Oklahoma is more or less middle-of-the-road, however. Yes, there’s alimony in Oklahoma – two kinds, actually.

Is Oklahoma an Alimony State?

Oklahoma law recognizes both spousal maintenance and alimony. A spouse might receive alimony, spousal maintenance, or both – but not concurrently.

Spousal maintenance is paid while a divorce is pending, and it’s sometimes called “temporary” alimony. Alimony kicks in after the divorce is final, and it can be either short-term or long-term. Short-term alimony is intended to support a spouse until he can get back on his feet financially and support himself on his own. Long-term alimony is typically reserved for special circumstances, such as when one spouse is older and has never worked or earned a living, or if a spouse is disabled.

Alimony is also sometimes referred to as “spousal support,” and it’s not gender-specific. It can be paid to either male or female spouses. Its purpose is to equalize incomes post-divorce when one earns significantly more than the other.

Alimony can be paid in either money or property – a spouse might receive the marital residence mortgage-free so she doesn't have to concern herself with a monthly payment as long as she lives there. Alimony can be paid in a lump sum single transaction, or periodically, such as monthly. It is not intended as child support, which might also be payable from one spouse to another when the family has minor children. Child support is for their benefit.

You and your spouse can negotiate your own terms for alimony if you’re facing divorce, and you can include the details in a signed marital settlement agreement. Otherwise, you can go to trial and leave it up to a judge to decide. The court will follow certain guidelines provided by Oklahoma divorce laws if you go to trial. Oklahoma does not have a statutory alimony “formula” or calculation to determine how much should be paid. It's up to the judge's discretion.

How Many Years Do You Have to Be Married to Get Alimony?

The length of a marriage is one of the factors an Oklahoma court will consider when a judge is asked to award alimony, and it might be one of the most – if not the most – important factor. But Oklahoma’s divorce statutes don’t include an exact number of years. This, too, is left to the discretion of the judge.

A lengthy marriage is more likely to result in a long-term alimony award depending on the needs of the under-earning spouse, such as how long it might take her to become self-supporting, if ever. For example, a couple might have been married for 25 years and one spouse never worked outside the home during that time. It would be unrealistic to expect her to quickly land a job post-divorce that would allow her to support herself in the lifestyle she enjoyed while married. Alimony might be awarded until such time as she does get a such a job...if ever.

Other Factors the Court Considers

The duration of the marriage doesn’t exist in a void – other factors are taken into consideration, as well. They include the age of each spouse, how much each earns, job skills and employability. Each spouse’s level of education might also be considered, as well as health factors, property distribution and premarital property owned by each spouse, if any, including whether the property produces income.

Marital lifestyle is also a consideration in that one spouse might not be permitted to continue to live in luxury while the other lives in poverty post-divorce, particularly when the standard of living during the marriage was a nice one. One spouse must show a need for extra income, and the other must have the ability to pay to help level the playing field.

One factor a judge will not consider in Oklahoma is marital misconduct, such as adultery or cruelty.

None of these factors is controlling. Rather, they each contribute to an overall picture that a judge will consider to determine whether alimony should be paid.

Can Oklahoma Alimony Be Terminated?

Even long-term alimony has an end date, occurring with either the remarriage of the spouse receiving Oklahoma spousal support, or the death of the spouse who’s paying it. Short-term alimony ends as well if either of these events occur while it’s being paid.

Termination of alimony is automatic in the event of death or remarriage, but there’s an alimony statute of limitations here. A spouse who remarries and who has been receiving spousal support has 90 days under Oklahoma law to file a petition asking the court to not terminate it, citing provable reasons why support should continue despite her marriage. A receiving spouse also has 90 days to petition the court to request that any past-due alimony be paid to him from the deceased spouse’s estate should the paying spouse die.

A spousal support order can also be changed or terminated if the spouse receiving alimony begins living with someone with whom he’s romantically involved, even if they don’t tie the knot and get married. Oklahoma’s divorce laws are a little archaic in this respect. They specifically refer to such a relationship as being with someone of “the opposite sex” or gender. Check with a local attorney to find out how this rule might affect you if you or your ex is involved in a same-sex relationship. Terminating or altering the spousal support terms of a divorce decree due to cohabitation requires that one of the spouses must petition the court to make the change into a court order.

The amount of alimony can be modified during its term, as well. This requires a showing of “material change” since the time of divorce. Something must have occurred to significantly increase or decrease the income of either spouse or their living expenses.

Tax Law Changes

Federal law has changed at least one alimony term for all 50 states beginning in 2019. It used to be that, come tax time, the spouse paying alimony could claim the money as a deduction so he wouldn’t have to pay income tax on that portion of his income. Likewise, the spouse receiving alimony had to claim the spousal support as income and pay taxes on it.

That all changed when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act went into effect on January 1, 2018, but there’s a bit of a time lag with the change. Divorces that are final before December 31, 2018 are still subject to the old rule. Spouses paying alimony can deduct it, and spouses receiving it must claim it as income if their divorces are final on or before this date. But as of January 1, 2019, the new rule applies. The spouse who’s paying alimony must also pay taxes on that income, and the spouse who is receiving it will have that income tax-free.

About the Author

Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.

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