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What Is Alimony?

Alimony or spousal support arrangements are generally agreed to by divorcing spouses in their marital settlement agreement, or by a court order. Alimony is paid from one spouse to the other either as monthly payments or a lump sum in cash, checks or even money orders. Unacceptable forms of payment include debt, property or services. Alimony is not usually awarded in short term marriages or where both spouses earn the same amount of income.

What Is the Reason Behind Alimony?

Alimony has been in the divorcee system for hundreds of years. Alimony is designed to provide spousal support to help the low-earning spouse to maintain the standard of living he or she had prior to the divorce or a spouse who has been out of the work-force because they have been raising their children or taking care of the house. If there were no alimony laws, then after a divorce a low-earning or non-working spouse would have no way of making a living or be able to take care of themselves.

When Does a Spouse Have to Pay Alimony?

Alimony is usually ordered when one spouse needs support of another after a legal separation or divorce. When alimony is ordered, the spouse ordered to make the payments will have to pay a specified amount of payments each month.

Just like all the other issues that are in a divorce, the amount and the length of the alimony payments may be agreed mutually between both spouses. If the spouses do not agree on the amount and length of alimony payments, then the court will step in and set the terms. If the spouses cannot agree, the court will usually have to set a trial which would be costly for both spouses.

How Long Does a Spouse Have to Pay Alimony?

The length that a spouse is ordered to make Alimony payments can be mutually agreed or it can be set by the courts. If alimony is ordered, the spouse will have to pay the specified amount each month until:

  • The judge sets a date of termination of payments
  • The former spouse receiving the payments remarries
  • The children do not need a full-time parent to care for them any longer
  • Either spouse dies
  • A judge determines that payments is no longer necessary after a reasonable amount of time
  • The judge determines that the spouse has not made a reasonable effort to become at least partially self-supporting
  • The spouse making the payment convinces the judge that he can no longer make payments because of a significant event

What Happens If a Spouse Refuses to Pay Alimony?

If the paying spouse fails to pay alimony in a full or timely manner, possible avenues of recourse include:

  • Contacting the county's proper department of revenue for enforcement assistance
  • Retain a lawyer to file a motion for contempt for court-ordered payments
  • File your own motion for contempt using the proper forms approved by that State

Once the court orders that alimony is to be paid, failure to pay is disobeying a court order, otherwise known as contempt of court. The following remedies are available to the person seeking alimony:

  • Wage liens
  • Levies upon real and personal property
  • Garnishment of property
  • Garnishment of wages
  • Court may order the paying spouse to the pay the delinquent amount plus a certain percent interest rate on that amount.
  • Willful failure to pay alimony may lead to a possible increase in the amount or possible imprisonment (depending on the state)

What Are the Taxable Consequences of Alimony?

If alimony payments in any year are reduced by $15,000 in the first three calendar years after separation or divorce, part or all of the payments will not be considered deductible and the past payments may be reclassified as income which may be taxed to the person seeking full payment of alimony.

Can Prenuptial Agreement Prevent Alimony Payments?

In many states, if a husband and wife have a prenuptial agreement, the agreement cannot prevent spousal support or child support payments. However, some states allow the spouse who has a prenuptial agreement to waive or limit spousal support or alimony payments as long as the agreement is not considered unfair or unreasonable.

For example, in California if there is a existing prenuptial agreement, a spouse may prohibit on paying alimony. However, if the judge sees that one spouse has substantially more assets and income and the spouses have been in a long term marriage, the provision will be void if the agreement is considered unfair.

Do I Need to Consult an Attorney?

Relationships between ex-spouses may be tumultuous and can lead to difficult situations. An experienced family lawyer can advise you of your rights and assist you in choosing the appropriate avenue of action for your alimony or spousal support issue.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 09-29-2016 03:45 PM PDT

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