Alimony or spousal support is financial payments made to one spouse by the other in the event of a legal separation or divorce. Spousal support is determined based on a number of factors that take into account the ability of one spouse to pay a specified amount of financial support to the other spouse.

Alimony may be ordered so the spouse can maintain their pre-divorce lifestyle or to allow the spouse sufficient time to be able to gain financial independence. Sometimes called rehabilitative alimony, the latter type of alimony is usually offered when one spouse has given up their career in order to raise their family.  

Once the spouse gets back on their feet, the alimony is typically terminated. Another type of alimony is called reimbursement alimony, which is awarded to the receiving spouse who worked full time to allow the paying spouse to complete their education.

Alimony may be permanent or temporary. Note that permanent in this case means that the alimony is paid until some life changing event, such as the death or remarriage of the spouse. Temporary spousal support is paid when the couples separate but the divorce is not yet final.

How Do I Request Spousal Support?

You will need to file a petition for alimony with the court. Most states include this request as part of the complaint for a divorce. Your spouse will need to be served the notice for alimony.  

If your spouse does not consent to the alimony requested, the court will make a determination whether you should be granted your request for alimony. Alimony may be ordered paid out during regular intervals or in a lump sum.

How Does the Court Determine Whether to Grant Spousal Support?

When considering a petition for alimony, the court will consider a number of things about each spouse to determine whether to grant the petition. These factors also help the court determine how much should be granted for alimony and how long the order for alimony should be in effect.

Factors the court may consider include:

  • Whether the couple was legally married;
  • The length of the marriage;
  • Each spouse’s current and future earning potential;
  • Each spouse’s financial contribution to the marriage;
  • Child custody considerations; and
  • Age and health of the parties.

While fault may be considered when determining whether to grant a divorce, it isn’t always a factor when the court is reviewing a petition for spousal support.

How Do I Modify a Spousal Support Order?

You should continue to pay your spousal support until the court has determined the order for support should be modified. If you would like the court to modify a spousal support order, start by petitioning the court. You should be prepared to show that you are entitled to the modification based on some substantial change in circumstances since the order was entered.

Examples of a substantial change in circumstance include evidence that the paying spouse has been laid off or is retired, the receiving spouse is now earning a significant increase in income, the paying spouse has remarried, or the paying spouse has becoming disabled.

How Do I Terminate a Spousal Support Order?

An order granting permanent alimony typically terminates when the spouse dies, remarries or cohabitates with a new partner. If the order is granted to allow a spouse to gain financial independence, the court will terminate the order once it is determined that the spouse no longer needs the spousal support.

Requesting that an order for spousal support be terminated because the receiving spouse has remarried is pretty straightforward. Proving that the spouse is cohabitating with a new partner is more difficult.

You must be prepared to show that the spouse and the new partner reside together and share expenses. It is especially helpful if you can show that the two are recognized by others as living together. Once a support order is terminated, it will not be renewed.

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

In such instances, you should pay the amount in the order at the time indicated. Compliance with a court order will go a long way should you later want the court to terminate or modify the order.

Disputes may arise about whether you have complied with the order, so it is important that you keep detailed records of payments you make. Also, these records will be important for tax filing purposes as spousal support may be allowed as a deduction on your taxes.

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

Divorce can be contentious especially when spousal support is at issue. Whether you are the spouse requesting spousal support or the paying spouse, it is in your best interests to consult with a family law attorney that specializes in divorce. A family lawyer will help to make sure you understand what the law provides in your specific circumstances.