Spousal support, or alimony, represents regular payments of money made from one spouse to another during a separation and/or after a divorce. The purpose of spousal support is to recognize spouse receiving funds contributed to the marriage. It aids in maintaining the same standard of living that the spouse grew accustomed to during the marriage. Spousal support also assists the spouse in achieving financial independence where possible. Spousal support is paid pursuant to a divorce agreement or court order.

What Makes a Marriage Valid?

Before an ex-spouse can be eligible to receive spousal support, the court must find that a valid marriage existed. If the marriage ended in an annulment or is deemed void, there is no legal basis for awarding spousal support unless a state statute exists which provides that spousal support may still be awarded.

Requirements for Spousal Support

Spousal support is not a requirement and will not be awarded in all cases. Courts typically award spousal support if there are certain factors present, including:

  • Recipient spouse has a disability or other health concern that may prevent them from being self-sufficient or acquiring gainful employment
  • There is a significant difference between the earning ability, income, and financial obligations of the two parties
  • One spouse contributed significantly to the other spouse’s education or employment – this is typically found in cases where one spouse paid for the other spouse’s professional education
  • One spouse spent the majority of time at home raising the child

Determining Spousal Support

Unlike child support, in most states, spousal support is not mandated to specific monetary guidelines. Courts have broad discretion in the amounts of alimony. Courts consider many factors in determining spousal support, including:

  • Age, physical condition, psychological state, and financial condition of the former spouses
  • Length of time the recipient would need for education or training to become self-sufficient
  • Couple’s standard of living during the marriage
  • Length of the marriage
  • Ability of payer spouse to support the recipient and still be self-sufficient.

Different Types of Spousal Support

There are typically four different types of spousal support. These include:

  1. Temporary Spousal Support. Temporary spousal support is often provided before the divorce is even settled in court. The spousal support can aid the lower-earning spouse to be supported while the divorce is in process. The other purpose of temporary spousal support is to permit the lower earning spouse to maintain his or her lifestyle between the time the couple separates and divorces. Typically, absent a written agreement between the parties prior to the separation, temporary spousal support is awarded via a temporary court order.
  2. Short-Term and Rehabilitative Support. Rehabilitative spousal support is awarded for a short period of time. The purpose is to allow the lower earning spouse to rehabilitate himself or herself. This aids the lower earning spouse to obtain job training, an education, or valuable job experience to aid the spouse in becoming more self-sufficient. This spousal support lasts until the recipient spouse is back to work. There is usually not date set in advance, however, the agreement is that payments will stop once the recipient spouse finds employment. If the paying spouse suspects that the recipient spouse is not completing an education or trying to find work, they may ask the court for a termination date or reduction in the support amount.
  3. Long-Term or Permanent Support. Permanent support may be granted after long marriages that have lasted more than ten years. Usually, the recipient spouse will likely not go back into the workforce and will need to be supported indefinitely. It is important to know whether your state permits permanent support, as some states do not. Permanent or long-term spousal support ends when the recipient spouse or the paying spouse dies. In approximately half the states, if the recipient begins living with another person in a marriage or a relationship similar to a marriage, the permanent spousal support may end.
  4. Reimbursement Support. Reimbursement support is spousal support that is not based on financial need but serves to compensate the recipient spouse for sacrificing their education, training, or career advancement by taking a job that supported the family while the paying spouse trained for a lucrative professional career. Both parties to the marriage have the expectation that once the paying spouse was established and earned a higher salary, the recipient spouse would be able to pursue their goals. If the marriage ends before the recipient spouse is able to do this, reimbursement spousal support makes the paying spouse return some of what was given to the marriage.

When Does Spousal Support End?

The timeframe for spousal support varies from case to case. Usually the timeframe is established by the support order issued by the court. Once the time is fulfilled and completed, the support payments will end.

Spousal support may be terminated early in some situations. These include:

  • Recipient spouse is living with another partner
  • Recipient spouse has had changes to their income levels allowing them to be more self-sufficient
  • Paying party will experience hardship due to the payments as a result of a changed situation; and
  • Various other factors as determined according to the court’s discretion
  • These issues must be raised to the court and the court will then put a stop to spousal support payments

Modification of Spousal Support

Depending on the changed circumstances of either spouse, it may be possible to modify spousal support. In order to do this, either the paying or recipient spouse must present a request with the court outlining the evidence of changed circumstances justifying a modification of the court order. These can include loss of employment of the paying spouse, increased income of paying spouse, and/or improved financial position of the recipient spouse.

What If the Spouse Won’t Pay Spousal Support?

If your ex-spouse is delinquent on spousal support payments a legal claim may be filed against them. A support agreement will solidly support any claims that may be brought in court regarding delinquency. If the court finds that spousal support must be paid, there are many remedies available to the recipient spouse including:

  • Wage liens
  • Levies upon real and personal property
  • Garnishment of property
  • Garnishment of wages
  • Court order requiring the paying spouse to pay the delinquent amount plus interest
  • Willful failure to pay spousal support could lead to an increase in the amount awarded or imprisonment

Do I Need an Attorney?

The end of marriage can be a difficult time. Ensuring that you are supported, or that you pay a fair amount to support your ex-spouse is an important task. Contacting an experienced family lawyer can advise you of your rights and help you through the difficult road ahead.