"Dependents" are those who rely on you for their financial support, such as minor children. Sometimes, a non-working spouse or a spouse who earns significantly less than you do is also considered a dependent. Divorcing your dependent spouse does not guarantee that you will no longer be responsible for providing her with financial support. Whether or not you must pay spousal support and, if so, how much your ex-spouse is entitled to receive, varies depending on your state laws and your specific circumstances.
Financial support one spouse pays to the other following a divorce is commonly known as “alimony” or "maintenance." According to the Memphis Bar Association, a judge examines both parties' financial situation. If your ex-spouse demonstrates a considerable financial need, the judge may order you to pay spousal support either indefinitely or for a pre-set time period. Indefinite alimony is generally less common than temporary alimony and may occur if your ex-spouse is not capable of self-support or a large disparity exists between your incomes. Indefinite spousal support orders are not necessarily permanent. If your ex-spouse's financial situation or earning capability changes, you can return to court and modify the existing spousal support order.
You income plays a considerable role in how much alimony – if any – the judge orders you to pay. State laws vary regarding the disparity that must exist between your income and that of your ex-spouse before a judge will award alimony. Some mistakenly believe that because they do not earn a significant amount, the court will not order alimony payments. Divorce courts, however, examine all aspects of your finances – not just your wages. Thus, a judge will take investment returns, rental income and inherited money into consideration after receiving an alimony request.
Your earning potential and that of your spouse differ depending on your level of education and experience. A judge may compare your ex-spouse's future earning ability to your own when setting a spousal support amount. If your ex-spouse stays home to care for your children, this lowers his earning ability and may render alimony necessary.
Some states, such as Ohio, take both parties' marital contributions into consideration when determining whether or not to grant an alimony petition. For example, if your ex-spouse worked to pay for your education rather than getting an education of her own, the court may consider that factor when reviewing her alimony request. If your ex-spouse's earning ability is low and he is not self-sufficient, he may wish to further his education in a field that will increase his earning power. The judge may take that into consideration when setting the amount and duration of alimony payments.
Social Security Benefits
In addition to spousal support payments, your ex-spouse may also qualify to draw dependent benefits from your Social Security. The Social Security Administration notes that in order for your ex-spouse to qualify for your benefits, your marriage must have lasted a minimum of ten years. Your ex-spouse cannot claim Social Security benefits in your name unless she is 62 or older, unmarried, and not entitled to a larger benefit amount. If your ex-spouse's Social Security package is larger than yours, she cannot draw benefits based on your work history.