Divorce is the end of a marriage, a union between two people who operate as a team. When that unit is dissolved, each partner in the marriage becomes an individual. Where the couple once shared a home and expenses, each spouse is now on their own. 

However, in the process of becoming individuals, one spouse may have a more difficult time reestablishing themselves because of circumstances in the marriage. For example, a stay-at-home wife who gave up her career to support her husband’s may be at a financial disadvantage after the divorce. 

That’s where spousal support comes in.  

What Is Spousal Support?

Spousal support (sometimes called alimony) is a financial contribution from one spouse to another, which is intended to assist the receiving spouse in establishing a new life after the divorce. 

This also helps ensure that the receiving spouse is still able to maintain the same standard of living as they did during the marriage. 

There are typically three types of alimony: lump sum, rehabilitative, and permanent. 

Lump-sum alimony is just what it sounds like. This is when a spouse receives a one-time payment of support and is usually part of a property settlement as well. It’s important for a receiving spouse to realize that there will be no additional financial support after the lump-sum payment. 

Rehabilitative alimony is financial support meant to help the receiving spouse develop marketable skills to be able to support themselves financially after the marriage. This might help a spouse finish their education or obtain job skills to become gainfully employed on their own. Rehabilitative alimony lasts for only a specific amount of time but can sometimes be amended or reviewed depending upon the spouses’ agreement. 

Permanent alimony is also just what it sounds like. It is regular payments from one spouse to the other that last indefinitely. The typical cut-off of permanent alimony is when the receiving spouse either remarries or dies. If neither of those events occurs, the paying spouse continues to be obligated to pay. 

How Is Spousal Support Determined?

Courts will look at a variety of factors to determine alimony. These factors can vary by state, but generally they include: 

  • Length of the marriage;
  • The couple’s standard of living during their marriage;
  • The ability of the alimony-paying spouse to pay support while still supporting themselves; 
  • The physical condition of each spouse;
  • The financial circumstances for each spouse;
  • Each spouse’s earning potential; 
  • The spouse’s education levels; and
  • The spouse’s work history.

These factors help the court determine whether alimony is necessary and if so, how much the receiving spouse should be awarded. 

Can a Support Order Be Changed?

Although spousal support is state-specific, the general standard for reviewing spousal support is if there has been a substantial change in circumstances. If the paying spouse suddenly becomes permanently disabled, loses their job, and is unable to obtain employment in the future, that spouse may be able to show a substantial change in their circumstances such that the court would modify the support order. 

However, courts generally will not entertain requests to change support orders if the paying spouse changes their financial circumstances for the worse intentionally. For example, suppose that a paying spouse quits a lucrative job on Wall Street and becomes an artist selling paintings on the sidewalk instead for a fraction of the income. In this instance, courts likely won’t see this as a substantial change in circumstances meriting a reduction in alimony

What Happens If Spousal Support Isn’t Paid?

There are typically two ways in which a spouse can handle a situation when they are entitled to receive alimony, but the paying spouse has not paid or has stopped paying. 

First, the receiving spouse may work with their ex-spouse to understand why payments have stopped. Sometimes, a spouse falls on hard times and making payments can be difficult. Spouses can work together to draw up an agreement amending the alimony schedule temporarily. 

However, if instead, a spouse is refusing to pay for no valid reason, the receiving spouse will need to go to court to enforce the spousal support order. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help Enforcing Spousal Support?

Divorce is rarely easy for a couple. There are dozens of factors involved in dividing assets, untangling finances, and determining spousal support, particularly if the marriage was long. It is important to assert your rights in dividing those assets and obtaining support. Once the divorce decree and settlement agreement are issued, there is usually little recourse for altering the agreement. 

And, unfortunately divorce can be messy, even after the ink has dried on the divorce decree. Sometimes it will be necessary to follow up with a family law attorney to enforce your alimony payments. Contact an experienced divorce lawyer to ensure that you are receiving the financial support you deserve in your divorce and that the financial support is properly enforced.