Alimony, also known as spousal support, refers to court ordered financial payments made by one spouse to the other during a legal separation or divorce. These payments are made in regular installments, and in accordance to a predetermined schedule. 

Alimony is generally ordered when a judge determines during the divorce proceedings that one spouse should still financially support the other, even though they will no longer be married to each other.

The amount of alimony is determined by several factors that consider the ability of one spouse to pay a specified amount of monthly financial support to the other spouse. Spousal support is intended to help cover the basic needs of a former spouse such as food, clothing, shelter, and transportation. 

Alimony may be ordered so that one spouse can maintain their lifestyle prior to the divorce, or to allow one of the spouses sufficient time to obtain financial stability. This is often referred to as rehabilitative alimony. 

Rehabilitative alimony is commonly ordered when one spouse left the workforce in order to raise their family or support the other spouse’s career ambitions. Rehabilitative alimony may also be ordered in any circumstances in which one party was dependent on the other for living expenses.

The main purpose of alimony, besides continuing to provide financially for low income or no income spouses after a divorce, is to prevent an unfair economic effect just because of the divorce. 

If a spouse left their career in order to support their family or children, they often have no current income or means to provide for themselves should a divorce occur, due to their lack of current job skills or experience. 

Importantly, once the spouse is able to support themselves financially, alimony is generally terminated. If the alimony was ordered to help the spouse maintain their standard of living that they had during their marriage, alimony payments may continue until they remarry.

Are There Different Types of Alimony, and How Are Alimony Payments Calculated?

In general, most alimony payments are issued on a regular, monthly basis. There are three main types of alimony payments:

  • Rehabilitative Alimony: As previously mentioned, rehabilitative alimony is intended to support the spouse until they are financially stable on their own;
  • Permanent Alimony: This type of spousal support is intended to last an indefinite amount of time. Permanent means that the alimony payments are made until some life changing event, such as the death or remarriage of one of the spouses; and
  • Temporary Alimony: Temporary alimony is meant to last a specific amount of time, generally set by a judge. It is paid when the couple separates, but the divorce is not yet final.

The court will generally decide whether or not alimony should be paid, as well as how much the payments should be and when those payments should end. Several states default to how the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (“UMDA”) determines the amount of alimony payments. Some of the factors considered by the UMDA when calculating alimony include:

  • Whether the couple was legally married, and the length of time that the marriage lasted;
  • Each spouse’s contribution to marital assets;
  • The financial background, as well as the earning capacity of each spouse at the time of the divorce;
  • Child custody issues, if any;
  • Whether either spouse has remarried or cohabitated with a new partner; and
  • The age and health of the parties involved.

Generally, moving in with or marrying a new partner will terminate spousal support payments. Significant changes in life circumstances, such as the loss of employment or moving, may also reduce, alter, or terminate the amount of alimony received. Once again, alimony is typically only paid until the receiving spouse is able to care for themselves financially.

 If the alimony agreement made does not have a termination date, then the payments must continue until the court rules that the payments are no longer necessary. As alimony is generally ordered according to projected needs of each party involved, alimony orders can often be modified or terminated, depending on the circumstances.

How Do I Request Alimony or Modify an Alimony Order?

In order to receive alimony payments, you will need to file a petition for alimony with the court handling your separation or divorce. Most states will include this request as part of the complaint for a divorce. 

Next, your spouse will need to be legally served the notice for alimony. If they do not consent to the requested alimony, then the court will then determine whether you should be granted your request. The actual alimony payments may be ordered to be paid out during regular (usually monthly) intervals, or as one lump sum.

If you are making alimony payments and need to have the order modified, then it is important that you continue making your payments so as not to be held in contempt of court. Not making your payments would be a violation of your court order. 

Start by petitioning the court for a modification order, and show that you are entitled to the modification based on some substantial changes since the order was first made. This could include evidence that you have been laid off, or have retired. 

Additional significant changes may include that the receiving spouse is now earning a significant increase in income and no longer needs spousal support in order to be financially stable. Other circumstances include the paying spouse becoming disabled.

Should I Hire an Attorney If I Have Issues with Alimony?

It would be in your best interests to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable family law attorney. Each state has their own laws regarding alimony. An experienced family law attorney  can educate you on your state’s laws, as well as assist in requesting alimony or modification of an existing alimony order. Further, they may represent you at any necessary court hearings.