You might realize that every dollar you earn during marriage is only half yours, but you may not be as sure about the money you earn after you and your wife split. As a general rule, the money you earned during marriage is marital, and what you earned afterwards is separate. But your ex-wife can still get her hands on it in some cases.
Equitable Distribution and Community Property
While important differences between community property (CP) and equitable distribution (ED) do exist, both systems apply similar definitions of marital property. In general, marital property consists of all property acquired or earned between date of marriage and either date of separation or some other date set forth in state law. The law will usually make an exception for gift and inheritance property. The important issue in your ex's entitlement is when you earned the money in question. Your ex-wife could get part of something you receive after your marital estate stops accruing if you earned it during the marriage, but it wasn't paid until afterwards. Bonuses and commissions are good examples.
While not directly laying claim to your post-divorce income, your ex-wife could indirectly benefit from an increase in your child support obligation.Guidelines-based systems now in effect in every state set child support based upon, among other things, the actual incomes of the parties as they exist at the time of hearing. As such, if you get a raise between date of separation and the time child support is actually resolved, your support obligation will be higher due to this post-separation increase in income, and subsequent raises will ratchet up your obligation with each modification motion.
Alimony is a harder payment to predict than child support. Amount, duration and entitlement vary widely, not only among the states, but among the family court judges in a given county. Typically, if you have to pay alimony the amount will be based largely upon your ex's need for support in order to maintain her in the standard of living to which she became accustomed during the marriage and upon your ability to pay for it. Depending on your financial circumstances at the alimony hearing, the court may have awarded less alimony than your ex needed. If you're suddenly making more money and can now pay more alimony, state law may allow for a modification.
Attorney Fees Where Allowable
Some states have laws allowing a litigant to request an award of attorney fees from the other side in connection with certain family law claims. North Carolina, for example, allows for an award of counsel fees related to child custody, child support and alimony. While the specifics of attorney fee statutes will vary from state to state, there will usually be some kind of explicit or implicit requirement that the requesting party be unable to pay her lawyer without your assistance. The court may, therefore, look at your income and decide that you can use that big, juicy raise you just got to help your ex pay her lawyer.