Spousal maintenance is when one spouse makes regular payments to the other spouse in a legal separation or divorce case. These payments are typically made on a monthly basis and begin following the finalization of the divorce or separation.

The amount of the payments is typically finalized in a divorce decree. However, they may also be ordered separately from a legal proceeding.

Spousal maintenance is also known as spousal support or alimony. It is intended to cover the basic needs to the receiving spouse, including:

  • Food;
  • Clothing;
  • Rent or a mortgage; and
  • Other necessary living expenses.

In most cases, luxury items and unnecessary expenditures are not considered when the court determines an amount for spousal maintenance.

How Long Does Spousal Maintenance Last?

The duration of spousal maintenance depends on each individual case and the needs and capabilities of each of the spouses. Spousal maintenance may either be temporary or indefinite, meaning ongoing until terminated by the court.

The majority of jurisdictions prefer to issue temporary awards of spousal maintenance, as many individuals experience major life changes which may alter their maintenance needs. One of the spouses may also modify a spousal maintenance order and have the required payments modified.

The order may also be terminated for a number of reasons. If a party is requesting termination, they must provide a reason for doing so.

When is Spousal Support Required?

When married individuals separate or divorce, the court may order one spouse to make payments to the other. As noted above, the purpose of these payments is to lessen the impact of any unfair economic consequences of the separation or divorce.

Typically, these payments are only required for as long as necessary for the receiving spouse to become self-sufficient. The duration and amount of spousal maintenance payments are provided in an order issued by the family court.

In general, a court will order spousal maintenance payments when:

  • One spouse has a disability or a medical issue that interferes with their ability to support themselves;
  • One spouse has significantly more income and earning potential than the other;
  • One of the spouses did not income during the marriage because they were raising one or more children while the other spouse was working; and
  • One spouse spent money to help the other achieve higher income potential, this may occur in cases where one spouse paid for the other spouse’s professional or other advanced degree.

When Can Spousal Maintenance Be Terminated?

Alimony may be terminated in situations where:

  • The receiving spouse has become financially independent and no longer requires support;
  • The receiving spouse has moved in with a new partner;
  • The paying spouse is experiencing financial hardship, which will require documented proof; or
  • The court has deemed it would be unfair or unreasonable for payments to continue.

Therefore, termination of spousal maintenance may occur depending on the specific situation. In addition, spousal maintenance laws differ by state. Supporting evidence may include:

  • Financial statements;
  • Bank account receipts;
  • Work stubs; and
  • Any other relevant documentation.

Can Spousal Support be Terminated Early?

Yes, the law permits early termination of spousal maintenance under certain conditions, including:

  • The receiving spouse is cohabiting with another individual;
  • The receiving spouse passed away;
  • The receiving spouse remarried;
  • The earnings or income of the receiving spouse has increased so that they are self-sufficient;
    • It is important to note that a court may terminate spousal maintenance if the court determines the receiving spouse has not made an effort to become self-sufficient;
  • The paying spouse will experience economic hardship if they continue to make payments; and
  • The paying spouse has retired.

Spousal maintenance will terminate in some cases when the receiving spouse is cohabiting with another individual. This is defined as a romantic relationship between two individuals that reside together but are not married.

Whether cohabiting terminates spousal maintenance varies by state. For example:

  • Many state laws allow spousal maintenance to be reduced or terminated only if cohabiting results in the receiving spouse no longer needing support;
  • Some states require spousal maintenance to terminate when there is cohabitation. In such states, alimony payments can be terminated even if the receiving spouse is still not economically self-sufficient;
  • In other states, cohabiting does not have an effect on the alimony payments the receiving spouse receives.

In most cases, however, spousal maintenance terminates when the receiving spouse remarries. However, this may not always be the case. Some state laws allow spousal maintenance to continue even after remarriage if there is no spousal support agreement that states otherwise.

When the paying spouse retires, the court will examine whether spousal maintenance should be terminated. The court will examine factors including:

  • The nature of the retirement and whether it was voluntary involuntary;
  • The overall health and age of each spouse;
  • The amount and duration spousal support that has already been paid;
  • Whether retirement will bring about a change in either spouse’s income level; and
  • The amount of property and assets each party has between the date the support order was signed through the date the judge hears arguments on whether or not to terminate spousal support.

What Can a Spouse Do to Terminate Payments Early?

In order for spousal maintenance payments to terminate, the paying spouse must obtain approval from the court. If a paying spouse wants to terminate payments, they must file a petition for termination of spousal support with the court in which their case was handled.

A petition for termination of spousal support is a formal request to the court to terminate the spousal support order. The petition must be accompanied by a statement of income and expenses as well as an explanation of why the spousal support order should be terminated.

In the statement of income and expenses, the paying spouse must disclose their current sources of income as well as how much income is earned from each source. This portion also includes the types and amounts of the paying spouse’s expenses.

The family court and the receiving spouse will both receive a copy of these documents. The court will then set a date for a hearing regarding the petition.

At this hearing, the court will hear arguments and receive evidence regarding why the support order should or should not terminate. Based on those arguments and evidence presented, the court will issue a decision, or an order.

In some cases, the court may grant the petition. This means that the spousal support payments will terminate and the paying spouse will no longer be required to make payments.

On the other hand, the court may deny the request made in the petition. This means that the paying spouse must continue to make spousal support payments.

It is important to note that the court may also decide to modify the existing spousal support order. This means that the court may reduce the amount of each payment instead of completely terminating payments.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Spousal Maintenance Issues?

It is helpful to have the assistance of an experienced family lawyer for any spousal maintenance issues you may face. Spousal maintenance can be requested in court and should be approved by a court so that it is legally enforceable.

An attorney can review your situation, assist you in petitioning the court for spousal maintenance, and represent you during any court proceedings. Divorce and separation can be difficult enough on their own, especially if you spent your marriage caring for children or supporting your spouse and you have no support of your own.

If you are the spouse being ordered to pay spousal maintenance, your attorney can ensure your interests are protected and your payments are fair. Should your financial circumstances change, your attorney can help you modify your required payments.