Alimony is a term that often comes up in divorce proceedings, but some people may wonder, “What is alimony?” Sometimes referred to as spousal support, alimony is an important factor to consider when thinking about divorce.
Here, learn all about divorce alimony, including what alimony is based on, who gets alimony, and alimony requirements.
What is alimony?
In simple terms, alimony is a payment that one former spouse makes to another during divorce or separation. In some cases, alimony is temporary throughout separation proceedings, whereas other people will qualify for permanent alimony depending upon alimony laws.
An alimony check is meant to equalize the playing field when the two members of a divorcing couple have significantly different incomes.
For instance, if one partner stayed at home with children, or one spouse earned three times what the other earned, alimony payments may be made to the spouse with no or lower income to help them maintain the financial status they enjoyed while married.
How does alimony work?
Alimony is awarded as a part of pending divorce or separation. A judge will consider the receiving spouse’s ability to support him or herself and obtain financial independence. An alimony award may be temporary or permanent, depending upon the couple’s situation.
Alimony may occur in the form of a lump sum payment, granted all at once, or it may be in the form of a property transfer, such as a judge ordering that one spouse be permitted ownership of the marital home.
Alimony payments can also be periodic, meaning that one spouse makes a monthly payment to the other. This is the most common form of alimony.
Ultimately, the judge overseeing a divorce or separation case makes the final decisions based on the reasons for alimony in a particular case.
How is alimony calculated?
Each state has its own alimony laws, so there is no standard calculation that can answer, “How much is alimony?” Some couples may come to an agreement on alimony, but if they cannot, a judge will determine the alimony amount that is awarded.
A judge will calculate alimony based on each spouse’s current income, the paying spouse’s ability to pay, and the receiving spouse’s need.
For instance, the judge will assess the difference in income between the two spouses and consider the future spouse’s earning potential.
Another consideration when looking at alimony calculation is the length of the marriage, with longer marriages being more likely to result in one party paying alimony to the other.
A judge is also likely to consider each couple’s expenses, any child support awarded to the receiving spouse, and parenting arrangements when calculating alimony.
Keep in mind that the difference between alimony and child support is that child support is meant to meet children’s basic needs, whereas alimony is intended to benefit the former spouse who has a lower income.
What is the difference between alimony and spousal support?
While people often wonder about the difference between alimony vs. spousal support, in actuality, these two terms describe the same thing. It is becoming more common for people to use the term “spousal support” when describing alimony, although the two terms are interchangeable.
How long do you have to pay alimony?
The duration of alimony payments will vary based on the length of the marriage and the type of alimony that is awarded. Consider, for example, the following types of alimony:
This is a one-time alimony payment awarded to the recipient.
Also, a one-time payment, property transfer involves one spouse agreeing to transfer the marital property to the receiving spouse.
Sometimes, a judge may award alimony on a short-term basis so that one spouse receives financial support during the course of the divorce.
One spouse may also receive “term alimony,” which is awarded for a specified period of time, with payments ending after that time period ends.
In some instances, alimony may be awarded on a permanent basis, meaning that the receiving spouse will be paid alimony indefinitely unless they remarry or choose to cohabitate with another partner.
This type of alimony agreement is typically given to spouses who stayed at home with children for the duration of lengthy marriages and therefore gave up their careers.
How to avoid alimony: 5 possible ways
Once you understand why would you pay alimony, there may be some of you who want to lower the amount payable or avoid it altogether.
There is no easy answer to this question, and the truth is that it is often difficult to avoid paying alimony. The following might reduce alimony payments or the duration of payment, and in some instances, may help you to avoid paying alimony:
1. Get divorced sooner
While making the decision to end a marriage is certainly not easy, if you are considering doing so and finances are a concern.
Ending the marriage earlier can reduce the alimony payment required or the duration of payments since many states award higher alimony amounts in the case of long marriages.
2. Be willing to negotiate
Perhaps a monthly alimony payment is not within your budget, but you may be able to give up assets elsewhere to reduce or eliminate the need for alimony.
For instance, you may agree to give your spouse a greater share of retirement account assets or allow them to remain in the marital home while you seek a residence elsewhere.
Negotiation can allow you and your spouse to arrive at an agreement that does not require alimony payments.
3. Ask for a vocational evaluation
Alimony is often based on a spouse’s future earning potential, at least to some extent.
A vocational evaluator might determine that your spouse has the ability to obtain a higher-paying job, which could reduce the amount of time during which you are obligated to pay alimony.
For instance, you may only have to pay alimony for a short period of time while your spouse attempts to find more lucrative employment.
4. Keep tabs on your spouse’s relationship status
If your spouse had an affair through the course of the marriage, and you have proof of such, you may be able to avoid alimony payments, but some states require you to have proof that marital money was used in the context of the affair.
For instance, if your spouse spent money on trips out of town with the affair partner or gave money to help the partner pay bills, this could be the cause for stopping you from paying alimony.
You may also see a stop or reduction in your alimony obligations if your former spouse remarries or moves in with another partner.
Knowing your spouse’s relationship status and state laws that apply to new relationships can be helpful if you’re looking to reduce your alimony percentage or eliminate it altogether.
5. Gather evidence that your former partner doesn’t need alimony
While this is not always the case, sometimes people are not truthful through the course of a struggling marriage or during divorce proceedings.
If you find that your partner has been stashing money in a secret savings account or has earned money in investments without you knowing, you may be able to prove that he or she has sufficient assets to not need alimony.
Since typical alimony payments and divorce alimony, rules will vary from state to state and will depend upon your circumstances.
It is always best to consult with an alimony attorney if you have specific questions about the best states for alimony or if you are looking for answers to questions like, “How do I avoid alimony?”
Some commonly asked questions
When learning answers to the question, “What is alimony?” many people may have some of the following frequently asked questions:
Am I entitled to alimony?
Whether or not you will be able to receive alimony depends upon your financial situation and the laws in your state.
If your spouse worked and you stayed at home to raise children, or if you earn significantly less than your spouse, you may be able to receive alimony as part of a divorce or separation.
Can a working wife get alimony?
Every situation is different, but if you work and your income is significantly lower than your spouse’s, and you demonstrate financial need, you may be able to get alimony for your husband, at least for a period of time.
You may be subject to a vocational evaluation to determine if your future earning potential can increase.
If your income is currently low enough that you qualify for alimony, you may receive it for a short period until you are able to secure higher-paying employment.
Is there a way to learn how to divorce without paying alimony?
While it is often impossible to get out of paying alimony if your former spouse earns significantly less than you and if you’ve been married for a long time, there are ways to reduce your payments and/or the amount of time you have to pay alimony.
For instance, if your former partner had an affair, or if they marry again, you may be able to avoid paying based on alimony guidelines.
You might also be able to reduce alimony payments or get out of paying altogether if you can demonstrate that your spouse doesn’t need it or if you are able to negotiate by giving up other assets.
Do you have to pay alimony if your spouse cheats?
Some states have laws that disqualify a partner from receiving alimony if they have an affair, but you will have to be able to provide evidence of the affair in court.
In addition, some states may require proof that marital assets were used to support the affair in order to prevent a spouse from receiving alimony is a term that often comes up in divorce proceedings, but some people may wonder, “What is alimony?”
Sometimes referred to as spousal support, alimony duration and the amount is an important factor to consider when thinking about divorce.
Watch this video to learn more about the history of divorce:
Is alimony taxable?
Have you been wondering, “Is alimony income, and will I be taxed for it?”
While alimony has historically been taxable, recent laws have changed this. For the alimony payer, alimony payments are no longer tax-deductible as of 2017.
At the same time, alimony payments are not reported as taxable income for the receiving spouse. These changes are a result of The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
The above changes to alimony laws apply to court orders made after December 31, 2018.
What this means is that if your divorce decree or alimony order was signed prior to this date, it is still taxable income if you are the recipient, and it is tax-deductible if you are the spouse paying alimony.
What to do when court-ordered alimony is not being paid
If a judge has ordered alimony, it must be paid, and the payer can be held accountable for failing to pay.
If your spouse has been ordered to pay alimony but is refusing to do so, you can file a motion in court, and the spouse could be held in contempt. This can result in fines and penalties.
Your spouse could also be required to make up for missed alimony payments by paying retroactively what was due in the past but not paid.
After you file a motion notifying the court that your spouse has failed to pay alimony, the court will schedule a hearing during which a judge will speak to all parties to determine why one spouse is refusing to pay alimony and to decide upon the best course of action.
Ultimately, the answer to “What is alimony?” is that it is a payment given to a lower-income spouse to help them maintain the standard of living they had prior to the separation.
Some people may refer to alimony as divorce maintenance since alimony allows people to maintain their financial stability during the divorce.
Alimony may help you to get back on your feet after a divorce, or it may be a permanent payment that you receive, especially if you spent most of your adult years staying at home while your spouse worked and you find yourself within limited income and few job prospects.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked Read more in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.
(Jenni Jacobsen is also listed in Best Marriage Therapists in Ashland)
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