Most people know very little about alimony and child support other than the fact they are systematic payments intended for the financial support of a former spouse and one's children. Furthermore, even those who have been paying or receiving support for years have misconceptions about the duration of support, or what is covered under each form of support. Let's start with alimony, which has gone through a lot of changes since the Alimony Reform Act of 2014. One notable change is the replacement of “permanent alimony” with “open durational alimony”, which is certainly more accurate. The world permanent is misleading, causing many dependent spouses to believe that they are legally entitled to support for the rest of their life. The fact is that alimony can be modified or terminated based on a qualifying change in circumstances, such as the death of the payor or remarriage of the recipient.
Other changes in circumstance, such as cohabitation, are much more complex. Through the Alimony Reform Act, “cohabitation” was broadened and clarified to include arrangements other than partners who live together full time. The purpose of this amendment was to address situations in which partners act like a married couple and shared marital responsibilities, but keep separate residences in order for one of them to continue receiving alimony. In truth, non-residential cohabitation is difficult to prove, but it is possible grounds for alimony termination, even if one is awarded permanent alimony.
Child support, on the other hand, is even more difficult to modify or terminate, although the new child support guidelines as of February 2017 did establish specific ages of emancipation. The misconception, however, is that parents can stop supporting their children altogether as long as there are no special circumstances that prevent the child from becoming emancipated. A common example is a child with significant intellectual and developmental delays due to a genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome. However, many adult children who are attending college need financial support towards things like tuition, housing and textbooks. That means a parent may have to help support a child even if he or she turns 19, although this form of support would not be referred to as child support.
Another common misconception is that child support is strictly for the needs of the child, i.e, bills and expenses related only to the child's expenses. First, this isn't a practical concept if you think about basic needs such as food and utilities. The heat and electric bill, for example, can't be divided to show only the child's usage, and it isn't reasonable for the custodial parent to use child support only for the child's food. Paying parents sometimes demand itemized lists to show where the money's going, but the truth is that custodial parents do receive “incidental” benefits from child support since the child primarily lives with them. Hence, it's extremely important to consult an experienced divorce attorney about your domestic support rights and legal options during and after your divorce.