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Who Pays Alimony?

Who Pays AlimonyJust in the last few years, the U.S. Census Bureau determined that only about three percent of men nationwide receive alimony. While state laws and public perceptions have admittedly changed to encompass the notion that either spouse may receive or pay alimony, the truth is that it is still much more common for men to pay alimony to their ex-wives.

What was once fairly uniformly called “alimony” now goes by other names, depending on the state in which you live. In many states, alimony is called “spousal support” or “spousal maintenance.” Regardless of the term, alimony is based on the idea that when two people get married, they have a duty to support each other and that this duty may even apply after the marriage ends.

When two people get married, they often make decisions that affect each other’s income and employability. For example, a couple may decide that one of the spouses will stay home to tend to the house and the children. At the same time, the other spouse is expected to grow in his or her career and increase the family income.

In another example, a married couple may agree that one spouse will support the other who is attending school, such as to get a law degree or a medical degree. After the education is over, that spouse usually has an increased ability to earn a higher income and to get a good job. However, the other spouse may have stalled out career-wise, also potentially reducing his or her future earning power.

Every state has laws that set forth the different types of alimony that are available and the factors courts must consider in determining who will pay alimony and in what amount. Typical factors that must be considered include each spouse’s ability to pay and any need for additional income over and above earning capacity. In addition, factors like these are common:

  • The standard of living enjoyed during the marriage
  • The length of the marriage
  • The mental and physical health of each of the spouses
  • Each spouse’s respective employability
  • Whether one spouse needs short-term support to allow him or her to become more employable
  • Whether one spouse sacrificed his or her career, education, or earning capacity to allow the other to advance
  • The division of the couple’s property
  • The tax consequences faced by the parties

The couple’s standard of living while married usually plays a large part in determining alimony. The idea behind using this as a factor is that the parties should be able to continue to live after a divorce at a similar standard of living as they did before. Evidence of a couple’s standard of living would include things like the types of cars they drove, the types of vacations they took, and the size and value of the marital home.

Depending on the law of the state, a court may choose to award alimony in a lump sum or in periodic payments, (typically monthly). A court may also choose to award alimony while a divorce case is pending or just for a specific period of time, such as for a few years or months.

If you’re interested to learn more about how alimony laws in your state will affect your situation, you will need to contact an attorney who is licensed in your state. It is best to select a lawyer you have many years of experience in divorce cases and with judges in your area.


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