Alimony or spousal support refers to payments made to one spouse from the other after a divorce. The family court considers situations where the spouses have unequal earning power and have been married for a long time. A judge also assesses one spouse’s financial need and whether the other spouse has the ability to pay alimony. The purpose of alimony is to equalize the financial resources of a divorcing couple. 

However, it is important to know that spousal support is not automatic and it is not ordered in every divorce. In some cases, the judges may award temporary spousal support while the divorce is pending. Alimony is the payments made from one spouse to another after a divorce. In comparison, child support is the payments made for the child in the marriage under 18, to sustain their daily essential needs such as healthcare, education and housing. 

How Do I Request Spousal Support?

The procedures of requesting for spousal support will vary among the different states. In general, you can start a petition with the proper legal paperwork in family court. The family law court representative in your county may be able to help you with your paperwork. You and your spouse may also come to an agreement regarding spousal support but if you are unable to, the judge will make a decision about your eligibility. The judge will consider several factors and analyze them case by case.

Overall, there are three different types of alimony support. Depending on what is offered in your local state, you can request the court for that particular one that falls within your unique situation.

  • Temporary Support While Divorce is Pending – The non-earning spouse may be in need of immediate support after the separation of the couple; therefore the court may award temporary support while divorce is still being resolved in some cases. 
  • Short-Term and Rehabilitative Support– Judges order short-term support for short marriages. Short-term support lasts only a few years, and its precise ending date is set in the court order. Rehabilitative support means a specific kind of short-term support, designed to facilitate a dependent spouse in getting retrained and back into the workforce. It usually ends when the recipient is back to work. The recipient is held accountable for pursuing the training or course of study and then searching for work. 
  • Long-Term or Permanent Support – Permanent support may be granted after long marriages (more than ten years typically), if the judge decides that the dependent spouse most likely will not be able to go back into the workforce and will need support indefinitely. However, some states do not permit permanent support.

How Does the Court Determine Whether to Grant Spousal Support?  

The judge will look at all of the relevant factors in your situation. The law states that those factors include:

  • The ability to support oneself;
  • Necessary time to acquire a job or get training to become employed;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • Length of the marriage;
  • Circumstances leading to the separation;
  • Each party’s age;
  • Physical and mental condition of each party;
  • Ability of the spouse paying alimony to support him or herself while making payments and;
  • Other financial responsibilities and resources of each party such as: previous awards of child support, financial obligations of each party, rights of each party to receive retirement benefits, and taxability or non-taxability of income.

Alimony may be paid in one lump sum or on a temporary or permanent basis. The court typically will consider the circumstances of each partner when deciding on how much and how long assistance is needed.

How Do I Modify or Terminate a Spousal Support Order? 

The death of either spouse or remarriage are one of the most common reasons for terminating spousal support. Some states allow for the reduction, suspension, or termination of alimony if the receiving spouse lives with another person in a romantic relationship. 

If the payor proves one of the automatic termination conditions defined by the family law court, support ceases permanently. A modification of the spousal support order requires there to be a showing of change in the circumstances. Each case is evaluated separately. 

What Should I Do if I Have Been Ordered to Pay Spousal Support?

The first step you should take is to check your alimony agreement and court order to be aware of the situation. Most marital settlement agreements and or court divorce judgments contain provisions that define the terms of alimony payments, about how much will be paid each month and when the payments are due. 

If for some reason you cannot make a payment and need to modify the alimony order, you will need to show a change in circumstances to obtain a new alimony order. It is important to make the payments as ordered in the agreement to avoid future exposure to liability. It is recommended to seek out a family law attorney to advise on any issues that may arise due to disagreements for the alimony order. 

How Much Spousal Support Could I Get?

There is no fixed amount for alimony support. It all depends on the income each spouse makes and how they are able to reasonably support both the alimony payment along with child support. Generally, family courts look at: 

  • Monthly income of each spouse 
  • Reasonable day-to-day expenses 
  • Whether an alimony award from would still sustain the standard of living established during a marriage. 

As is frequently the case, if there is not enough money to make it possible for the parties to reestablish something close to their marital standard of living, then most judges will look for a way to make the divorcing parties share the financial burdens equally.

What Happens If Spousal Support Isn’t Paid?

One of the first consequences when a spouse does not comply with the court order may be to ask the court for enforcement. This happens through contempt of court proceedings. The recipient spouse may show evidence that the other spouse is not complying with the court order. He or she may be able collect bank statements that demonstrate that payments have not been made. Furthermore, they should show that only partial payments were made or the payments were not made in time. Some states allow the judge to order jail time if the other spouse is found in contempt of court.

Some spousal support awards include an income withholding order which allows the employer to withhold the ordered amount of spousal support from the spouse’s paycheck. The employer then sends this amount to the spouse directly. This is often an effective way to guarantee the payment is given to the spouse. Another way to receive spousal support can be to initiate a lawsuit against the spouse who is not paying. But before filing a lawsuit, you may be able to mediate the legal issue and reach a new agreement.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with Spousal Support Issues? 

If you have been ordered to pay alimony or receive alimony payments, issues may arise regarding the amount to be paid and when. Since laws change depending on the state, it is crucial to determine what your local state’s stance is on the issue of alimony. 

It is important to seek out an experienced local family law attorney in your state to guide your process in determining a fair and just alimony support figuration.