There is no doubt about it: divorce can be a complicated process. For a spouse that has sacrificed much of their career prospects in order to support their spouse’s career instead, the financial future after a divorce can be scary. 

Oftentimes there’s a difference in earning capacity between the spouses, especially for couples who have been married for a long time. One spouse may have more advanced education than the other spouse. One spouse may have a more robust work history than the other. These factors make it difficult for the more disadvantaged spouse after the divorce. 

That’s where spousal support can help. 

What Is Spousal Support?

Spousal support (sometimes called alimony) is financial contributions made by one spouse to the other. Support is meant to assist the disadvantaged spouse in establishing themselves after the divorce. 

Support is also meant to help the disadvantaged spouse maintain the same standard of living that they enjoyed during the marriage. 

There are generally three kinds of support. These include a lump sum payment (a one-time payment that covers all of the support the spouse will get), rehabilitative support (meant to assist a disadvantaged spouse in obtaining the skills necessary to support themselves independently after the divorce), and permanent support (which will last indefinitely, usually until the receiving spouse remarries or dies). 

When Is Spousal Support Ordered?

Each state has different standards for determining when spousal support should be ordered. Typically, factors that are considered include: 

  • How long the spouses were married; 
  • The couple’s standard of living during their marriage;
  • The ability of one spouse to pay the other while still supporting themselves; 
  • The ability of each spouse to work; 
  • The earning potential of each spouse; 
  • The spouse’s education levels; 
  • The spouse’s physical condition;and
  • The spouse’s work history.

Another key factor in a court’s decision to order alimony is what contributions each spouse made to the marriage. 

For example, suppose that a spouse who stayed at home and worked as a homemaker preparing meals, packing lunches, maintaining the home, raising the couples’ children, and fulfilling all of the other tasks associated with being a homemaker. In such cases, they would have contributed significantly to the marriage even though that spouse may not have ever earned a paycheck. 

Or, conversely, a spouse who voluntarily did not earn a paycheck nor take care of the home or any children may not be deemed to have contributed to the marriage. In this scenario, the non-working spouse may not expect to get much alimony as they did not contribute much to the marriage. 

Similarly, in situations where both spouses worked and made relatively equal amounts of money, most courts won’t see a need for ordering spousal support. This is because each spouse demonstrated an ability to support themselves during the marriage, even if having to live on their own after the divorce may impact their standard of living. 

Another example where a spouse should not expect to receive alimony is if the couple was only together for a short time. If a couple has only been married for two years (for example) then courts will not see one spouse as likely to have made significant sacrifices that need to be financially rectified (at least not for a long period of time). 

In comparison, a spouse that was out of the workforce for twenty years to support the other spouse has a greater need for financial support after the divorce. 

Factors that courts will typically not consider when determining alimony include: whether one spouse cheated on the other or whether one spouse was emotionally absent from the marriage. 

How Much Spousal Support Could I Get?

Most courts use formulas based on each spouse’s income to determine the amount of spousal support. Besides income, other assets may be included in factoring spousal support. These assets may include real property, retirement plans, government benefits, stocks and bonds, and savings. 

Occasionally, there may be situations where the appropriate amount of spousal support needed to prevent injustice is not so obvious. That’s when the court will examine the factors described above. 

However, when courts determine the amount of spousal support, they usually do so without regard to what kind of financial settlement the receiving spouse obtained during the divorce. If a spouse received $1million as their share of the divided property, courts will not use that against the spouse when determining alimony. They are separate considerations. 

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Spousal Support Matters?

In most cases, a spouse must request a support order from the court during divorce proceedings. If you believe you deserve spousal support, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance. 

Just like each couple and each marriage, each divorce is different than any other. The factors relevant to your case are unique to you. These should be discussed with an attorney who can appropriately advise you on what your rights are and what kind of spousal support (if any) you could expect to receive.