Spousal support, or alimony, is provided in order to allow a spouse to live independently after the end of a marriage. It is used to ensure the spouse that earned an income during the marriage does not take advantage of a spouse that did not. It also compensates the non-earning spouse for their contributions to the marriage that were not financial.

Spousal support is intended to support the receiving spouse so that they can achieve their educational or professional goals and become self-sufficient. A court will examine several factors when awarding alimony. The primary reason a court awards spousal support is to allow the receiving spouse adequate time to establish themselves and become financially independent.

When is Spousal Support Ordered?

Spousal support is typically ordered in connection with cases of divorce or legal separation. It is typically ordered in the form of a monthly payment that one spouse pays to their ex-spouse.

A court may order spousal support in cases where one spouse is much more financially stable than the other. This includes cases where one spouse made an income and the other remained at home to raise the children.

Who Qualifies for Spousal Support?

Spousal support is ordered on a case-by-case basis. Every case is different in terms of the spousal support analysis.

Typically, only individuals who have been married for a substantial period of time, typically 5 years or more, qualify for spousal support.

When determining spousal support, the court will examine factors including:

  • The earning capacity of each spouse;
  • The assets and property owned by each individual;
  • Whether one party has significant debt;
  • Whether the parties operated a shared business;
  • Each party’s contribution to the marriage, for example, as a homemaker, or in terms of joint careers or education;
  • Whether the parties have worked out spousal support provisions in a prenuptial agreement; and
  • Various other factors, including mental and physical health conditions.

What are the Requirements for Spousal Support?

There are several requirements that must be satisfied in order to payments to be considered spousal support, including:

  • The payments must be made by cash or checks. Paying off debts or providing assets is not considered payments for support;
  • The payments must be required by a divorce or a written agreement;
  • Payments made prior to the agreement or divorce are not considered;
  • Spousal support cannot be claimed during a year in which joint tax returns were filed;
  • Spousal support payments cannot be paid during the time both spouses live in the same residence; and
  • The payments must terminate if one spouse marries or dies.

Can Spousal Support be Terminated?

Yes, spousal support can be terminated if certain conditions are met. These may include:

  • A future date set by the court;
  • Children of the marriage are no longer minors;
  • The death of either spouse;
  • The remarriage of the receiving spouse;
  • It is necessary to terminate the payments in order to avoid a harsh result or for fairness; and
  • Some other significant event occurs which convinces the court to re- evaluate and consider a change in the support.

The spouses may be able to agree on the amount of spousal support as well as the duration it will be paid. However, if there is a conflict and the parties cannot reach an agreement, the court will set the terms for the parties.

How Can I Avoid Future Conflict Between the Spouses in Terms of Payment of Alimony?

The spouse who is paying spousal support can record the support payments they make in order to avoid future conflict. For example, the paying spouse can keep a ledger that lists each payment, the date, check number, and address to which it was sent.

The receiving spouse should also keep a ledger of checks they receive. For example, the receiving spouse may make a photocopy of each check and verify the correct amount was received.

These simple habits can help avoid future conflict. This information can also be used in court, if necessary.

Can Spousal Support be Modified?

Yes, spousal support can be modified in certain instances. If the court determines that it is an undue hardship due to drastic changes in the financial circumstances of the paying spouse, the payment amount may be modified.

There are different ways to modify a spousal support order. The couple may come to an agreement regarding modification of the support order and have the court approve the change. The court will also determine in what circumstances or on what terms the order may be modified at a later date.

For more flexibility in the future, a couple may include a provision in the spousal support agreement that permits modifications in the amount only when:

  • Both ex-spouses are in agreement;
  • The court orders a modification;
  • Income of either spouse changes; or
  • Either spouse becomes disabled.

Even in cases where there is not an agreement regarding future modification in the spousal support order, the court will generally allow a modification if there is a significant change of circumstances. It is important to note, however, that in some states, modification is not permitted. Because of this, it is important to have the help of an attorney to research state laws regarding modification of spousal support orders.

What are Some Restrictions Regarding Spousal Support?

The restrictions regarding spousal support vary by state. There are limitations regarding what amount may be awarded as spousal support. Typically, a state determines the amount based on several factors, including:

  • The recipient spouse’s financial needs;
  • The paying spouse’s income;
  • The paying spouse’s ability to pay;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The lifestyle during the marriage;
  • The age and health of each spouse;
  • Non-marital assets of each spouse;
  • Any dependent minor children;
  • The length of time the recipient spouse will need to establish their education or training to become self- sufficient; and
  • The need to care for other family members besides children.

Recently, some states have been attempting to encourage more financial independence to reduce the amount of spousal support that is not financially feasible for the paying spouse. In addition, a few states have been limiting or even denying spousal support if the receiving spouse was the cause of the dissolution of the marriage.

Courts have been considering grounds such as abandonment, adultery, and marital misconduct. In some cases, spousal support is temporary and is only awarded for the duration of time the receiving spouse would need in order to gain financial independence.

What if the Spousal Support Order is Violated?

If the paying spouse violates a spousal support order, it may be possible to have the court intervene. In these cases, a court may issue an order of contempt and require the paying spouse to pay the amount owed. In addition, a court may order jail time or other legal or criminal consequences for the failure to pay spousal support.

Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer for Help with Spousal Support Restrictions?

It is essential to have the assistance of an experienced family lawyer for any spousal support issues you may face. Agreements over spousal support can quickly become complicated, especially if the divorce is not amicable.

Having a lawyer on your side can help you mitigate any issues and draft a spousal support plan that is beneficial and feasible for both the paying spouse and the receiving spouse. It is important to have a lawyer in your state, as the laws differ by state.