When spouses divorce following a legal marriage or separation, each may be entitled to seek alimony (otherwise known as spousal support) from the other as part of the order of divorce.

Whether or not a party is entitled to alimony payment is determined by individual states, and may vary as to the amount and duration of payment. Alimony can be temporary or permanent and can be ordered paid in a lump sum or during scheduled periods.

Typically, alimony is granted to the ex-spouse who can demonstrate the need for alimony and is generally intended only to the extent necessary to allow the ex-spouse to become self-supporting. The alimony can be used to cover basics like food, clothing and shelter.

What Factors are Considered in Calculating Alimony?

Following a formal divorce or legal separation, the court may order alimony be paid to a spouse after reviewing the circumstances of each spouse. Generally, the court will look at specific factors including the length of the marriage, the fault of either party, their income earning potential, and any disability.

What to Expect If Alimony is Ordered for You

The court has determined based on your specific circumstances to grant an order for alimony for you that your ex-spouse will have to pay. It is important that you fully understand the order granting alimony because it will contain the circumstances under which you are entitled to continue receiving alimony.

The order will also indicate whether the alimony is temporary or permanent, whether you will be paid periodically or in a lump sum, and the reasons for which alimony may be terminated. Typically, alimony may be terminated if you remarry or become financially self-sufficient.  

What to Expect If You are Required to Pay Alimony

If you have been ordered to pay alimony, it is important that you also understand the specific requirements outlined in the order. Failure to comply with the alimony can have serious legal consequences. Your ex-spouse can file a petition with the family court to enforce the payment.

In some states, this may mean the court can order the seizure and sale of property to satisfy the alimony, sentence you to jail time, or order that some amount of your income be withheld. Income withholding results when the court issues an order to your employer to withhold the amount of the alimony and send the alimony to the supported spouse.

The employer is obligated to do this and does not need your consent. In fact, the employer’s failure to do so can result in serious financial implications for the employer.

How Can I Modify My Alimony Payments If I am the One Paying Alimony?

Alimony payments can be modified by either party filing a motion with the court. The court will ask that you establish your reasons for seeking the modification. This typically involves an inquiry into your change of circumstances.

You can show that your circumstances have changed because you have been laid off or you have suffered a disability resulting in decreased income. You may even be able to show a change of circumstance because you have reached the retirement age.

If the order for alimony includes a provision that alimony may be modified because the ex-spouse is receiving additional support, the court also may modify the alimony. So, for example, if the ex-spouse is now living with another person as if married, the court may conclude that no additional alimony is required.

What if I am the Alimony Recipient and I want to Modify My Alimony Payment?

Likewise, if you are the supported spouse, you also may seek a modification of the amount and duration of your alimony based on your changed financial circumstances. Has your income been reduced or has your ability to earn income changed? Has the paying spouse failed to improve their financial condition as originally agreed? Is the paying spouse able to pay the increased alimony?
 
Each state will determine whether any or all of these factors must be shown by the supporting spouse to warrant an increase in amount or duration of alimony. If, however, there is evidence that you (the supported spouse) caused or contributed to the need for the modification, there may be serious consequences for you.

Additionally, if there is evidence that the supported spouse is receiving additional support, as in the cohabitation scenario above, the court may determine that a modification of alimony is not warranted.

Do I Need an Attorney for Issues with Divorce and Alimony?

If you believe you are entitled to alimony or a modification of an alimony award, you should consult with a local family law attorney. A family law attorney in your state will be able to explain to you the nature of spousal support based on your circumstances and help you make the best argument to the court as to why you are entitled to alimony or a modification.