Alimony, also called spousal support, is monetary payments that are made by one spouse to the other spouse when the spouses divorce or become separated. The purpose of alimony payments are to support the receiving spouse during the time they are attempting to become financially independent. In certain situations, the amount of the alimony payments can be changed, or modified.
A family court will consider a situation in which the spouses have unequal bargaining power and have been married for a long time. The court will also assess the spouse’s financial needs and whether or not one spouse has the ability to pay alimony to the other spouse. Alimony is intended to equalize the financial resources of the divorcing couple.
It is important to note that spousal support is not automatic. It is not ordered in every divorce case. In certain cases, the court may award temporary spousal support to one spouse while the divorce is pending.
Alimony is not the same as child support. Alimony payments are payments made from one spouse to another. Child support payments are made from one spouse to another in order to support a child under the age of 18 and support their essential needs such as education, healthcare, and housing.
The process of requesting alimony varies from state to state. Generally, an individual can request alimony in family court.
It is possible for the divorcing couple to come to an agreement regarding spousal support. If the divorcing couple is unable to reach an agreement, the court will make a decision regarding the eligibility of the spouse and the amount they should receive. The court will consider several factors and analyze each case separately.
Generally, there are three different types of spousal support. Depending on what type of alimony is available in an individual’s jurisdiction, they may petition the court for one that fits within their unique situation. The options include:
- Temporary support while the divorce is pending;
- Short-term and rehabilitative support; or
- Long-term or permanent support.
The court may order temporary support while the divorce is pending in cases where the non-earning spouse is in need of immediate support after the separation of the couple. The court may award this type of support while the divorce is being resolved.
The court may order short-term and rehabilitative support when the marriage was short in duration. Short-terms support typically lasts only a few years, and a precise ending date for payments is set in the court order.
Rehabilitative support is a specific type of short-term support that is designed to facilitate a dependent spouse to get retraining and back into the workforce. It typically ends when the receiving spouse goes back to work. The receiving spouse is held accountable for pursuing necessary training or courses of study and then searching for a job.
A court may order permanent support after a long marriage, typically 10 years or more. If the court determines that the dependent spouse will likely not be able to return to the workforce and will require support indefinitely. It is important to note that some states do not permit permanent support.
There is not a fixed amount for spousal support. The amount is dependent upon the income each spouse makes and whether or not the paying spouse can pay alimony and child support, if required. Typically, the family court examines:
- The monthly income of each spouse;
- The reasonable day-to-day expenses; and
- Whether an alimony award would still sustain the standard of living established during the marriage.
In many cases, if there is enough money between the parties to establish something close to the standard of living they had during their marriage, the court will attempt to make the divorcing parties share the financial burdens equally.