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What Is Alimony?

What Is Alimony?

Alimony, also referred to as spousal support or spousal maintenance, is a legal obligation one spouse has to provide (financial support) to the other during and/or after a legal separation or divorce.

The purpose of alimony is to provide financial support to the spouse with lower income to enable them to maintain the same standard of living the couple enjoyed during the marriage, at least until the recipient is able to become self-supporting.

Alimony is most often awarded after a lengthy marriage, or in cases where one spouse gave up career opportunities to support the other spouse or to take care of the couple’s children.

Often, people confuse alimony with child support, however, they are two completely different types of financial remedies awarded during a divorce or legal separation. Alimony, in many cases,  is awarded alongside child support and at the discretion of the judge presiding over the case.

How the amount and duration of alimony is determined

Divorcing couples may come to an agreement on the actual amount and length of time alimony should be paid. However, if they can’t come to an agreement on the terms of alimony, a judge will have to decide for them. But, letting a judge determine the terms of alimony will require there to be a trial, which, for both parties, will be costly in terms of time and money.

The judge will look at a very extensive list of factors when determining if alimony should be awarded, including:

  • The financial needs of the party requesting alimony
  • The payor’s ability to pay
  • The lifestyle the couple enjoyed during the marriage
  • What each party is able to earn, including what they actually earn as well as their earning capacity
  • The length of the marriage

The party who is obliged to pay alimony will, in most cases, be required to pay a specified amount every month for a period of time that will be specified in the couple’s judgment of divorce or settlement agreement, or until any one of the following occurrences takes place:

  • The recipient remarries
  • Their children reach the age of maturity
  • A court decides that after a reasonable amount of time, the recipient has not made a satisfactory effort to become self-supporting.
  • The payor retires, whereafter a judge may decide to modify the amount of alimony to be paid,
  • The death of either party.

Refusal to pay court-ordered alimony

Alimony is a court order and is just as enforceable as any other court order. If one spouse has been awarded alimony but the other spouse refuses to pay, the spouse awarded alimony can go to court to have the order enforced with the realistic possibility of forcing regular payments. Should it become necessary, a judge can put the non-paying ex-spouse in jail to show them that the court is serious about enforcing the order.

Contact an experienced divorce attorney

The laws governing alimony vary from state to state. If you are facing divorce and want to know if you will receive or be ordered to pay alimony, contact an experienced divorce attorney in your area for more specific information regarding alimony in your state.


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