Alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, is a payment of money from one spouse to the other after a divorce.
Alimony provides financial support to a spouse who was financially dependent on the other spouse during the marriage. Alimony aims to allow both spouses to maintain their marital standard of living after a divorce.
Alimony payments can be an important part of the divorce process. But not every divorce will result in alimony. Whether you receive alimony depends on many factors.
What Are Alimony Payments?
Alimony, or spousal support, is money paid from one ex-spouse to another after a divorce. Alimony payments provide financial support to the spouse who made less money during the marriage, or who gave up their career to care for the family.
The purpose of alimony is to allow the lower-earning spouse to maintain their marital standard of living after the divorce is finalized. Alimony helps the financially dependent spouse gain skills, education and work experience to become financially independent.
Alimony is different from child support. Child support payments go to support any children from the marriage. Alimony goes directly to supporting the ex-spouse.
However, every divorce is different. There’s no guarantee that the higher-earning spouse will have to pay alimony.
Whether you receive alimony depends on factors like:
- Length of the marriage
- Income of both spouses
- Education and work skills
- Health and age of both spouses
- Standard of living during marriage
- State laws on alimony
The court examines these factors to decide whether alimony should be paid, how much, and for how long.
How Does Alimony Work?
Alimony works by requiring one ex-spouse to make regular payments to support the other ex-spouse financially.
There are different types of alimony:
- Temporary alimony – Paid while the divorce is pending
- Rehabilitative alimony – Paid for a short time to help spouse gain skills
- Permanent alimony – Ongoing support, often until death or remarriage
- Lump-sum alimony – One-time payment in lieu of ongoing support
The court examines factors like income, education, length of marriage, and more to decide what type of alimony works best for each case.
Alimony payments are usually made monthly. But the schedule can vary, depending on what the spouses agree to or what the judge orders.
The amounts and duration are set based on the financial situation of each spouse. The goal is to allow both to maintain their marital standard of living as best as possible.
How Courts Decide Alimony
There are no hard-and-fast rules on whether a spouse will receive alimony. The court must look at each case individually.
However, there are general guidelines courts follow when making alimony decisions.
Deciding Whether to Award Post-Divorce Alimony
First, the judge decides if alimony should be awarded at all after the divorce is finalized.
The court considers factors like:
- Length of the marriage – Generally, the longer the marriage, the more likely alimony will be awarded. A marriage of 10 years or more often qualifies.
- Income disparity – If one spouse earns much more, the other may be awarded alimony to balance incomes.
- Education and skills – A spouse who gave up their career may get alimony to gain skills for re-entering the workforce.
- Health – Poor health may affect a spouse’s ability to work and earn income. Alimony can help in this case.
- Age – An older spouse may have more difficulty finding work. Alimony can provide support.
- Standard of living – Courts consider the marital standard of living in deciding whether to award alimony.
- State laws – Some states favor or disfavor permanent alimony, which affects decisions.
If the court decides alimony should be paid based on these factors, the next step is determining the amount and duration.
Considerations When Deciding How Much Spousal Support to Award
If the court determines alimony should be paid, the next step is deciding how much.
Factors affecting the alimony amount include:
- Income of both spouses – Courts look at income from all sources, not just salaries.
- Living expenses of both spouses
- Monthly budgets and spending during marriage
- Standard of living during marriage
- Spouse’s ability to become self-supporting – Will additional education or training be needed?
- Tax effects of alimony – Payments are deductible for the payer and taxable as income for the recipient.
The goal is allowing each ex-spouse to continue living at a comparable standard of living after the divorce.
Deciding How Long Spousal Support Will Last
In addition to deciding the payment amount, the court must determine how long alimony will be paid.
Alimony may be:
- Temporary – Paid for a specific period of time
- Permanent – Ongoing until death of either spouse or remarriage of recipient
- Rehabilitative – Paid until recipient can become self-supporting
Temporary alimony may be awarded while one spouse transitions financially or receives training for a new career.
Permanent spousal support is common in long-term marriages where it’s unlikely the dependent spouse will ever achieve the same earning power.
Rehabilitative alimony provides interim support and is less common in longer marriages.
The length depends on the purpose of alimony in each case and state laws. Some states favor permanent support while others limit alimony duration.
What About Temporary Spousal Support?
Temporary spousal support may be awarded while a divorce is pending, before final orders are issued. Also called alimony pendente lite or interim alimony.
Temporary alimony maintains the financial status quo while the divorce is being finalized. It provides income to the spouse who depended on the other spouse financially during marriage.
To receive temporary alimony, the requesting spouse must show:
- They need financial assistance to maintain their standard of living during the divorce
- The other spouse has the ability to pay
The amounts and length of temporary support depend on incomes, living expenses, and the case timeline. It usually ends when the divorce becomes final.
However, temporary orders are not binding. The court issues final alimony orders only after examining the full situation.
Temporary and final alimony amounts often differ. Don’t depend solely on receiving the temporary support amount long-term.
Can the Court Disqualify You from Receiving Alimony?
In most cases, alimony decisions are based on financial factors. But in some cases, the court may disqualify a spouse from receiving alimony due to their conduct.
Examples of behavior that may disqualify a spouse include:
- Abandonment – Deserting the family without cause
- Adultery – Having an extramarital affair
- Substance abuse – Alcoholism or drug addiction
- Domestic violence – Physical or mental abuse of spouse or children
- Financial misconduct – Rack up debts, hide assets, or engage in fraud
The court has discretion whether to disqualify a spouse based on these factors. The decision depends on the laws and evidence presented in each case.
Disqualification is not automatic. But serious misconduct can weigh against a spouse receiving alimony. It’s wise to avoid these behaviors when possible.
How are Taxes on Alimony Payments Handled? Is Alimony Taxable?
Prior to 2019, alimony payments were tax deductible for the payer and considered taxable income for the recipient. This is no longer the case.
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, alimony payments are no longer deductible for the payer. They are also no longer counted as taxable income for the recipient.
This tax change applies to divorce agreements finalized after December 31, 2018.
For divorce agreements finalized before 2019, the old tax rules still apply. The paying spouse can deduct alimony payments and the receiving spouse must report payments as taxable income.
Taxes on alimony can be complex. Be sure to consult a tax professional to understand the tax implications in your situation. Key things to know:
- For pre-2019 divorces, alimony is taxable income to the recipient and deductible for the payer
- For post-2018 divorces, alimony is not deductible or taxable for either spouse
- Alimony may affect eligibility for certain tax credits and deductions
- State taxes on alimony may differ from federal rules
- Failure to correctly report alimony can lead to tax problems or penalties
Understanding the tax requirements for alimony is crucial. Both spouses should discuss taxes with their divorce lawyers and accountants.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: How is the amount of spousal support determined?
A: The amount of spousal support is determined by several factors, including the duration of the marriage, the income and earning potential of each spouse, and the standard of living established during the marriage.
Q: Is spousal support available in all divorce cases?
A: Spousal support is available in some divorce cases, but not all. It depends on the specific circumstances of the marriage and the financial needs of the parties involved.
Q: How long do spousal support payments last?
A: The duration of spousal support payments varies from case to case. It can be temporary or permanent, depending on the court order.
Q: Can I stop paying spousal support if my former spouse remarries?
A: In some cases, spousal support payments may end if the recipient spouse remarries. However, it is important to review the court order or consult with an attorney to determine if this applies to your specific situation.
Q: Do I need to file a separate request for alimony?
A: If you are filing for divorce, you can include a request for alimony as part of your divorce case. There is usually no need for a separate request.
Q: Can I receive alimony payments if my spouse dies?
A: If your spouse dies, the court may consider your financial needs and the circumstances of the marriage in determining whether you are entitled to receive spousal support payments after their death.
The court decides alimony on a case-by-case basis by examining multiple factors. There are no guarantees you will receive spousal support.
If you’re financially struggling after a long marriage, don’t assume your ex will have to pay you alimony. Hire an experienced divorce lawyer to help you navigate this complex process.
With proper legal advice, you can present your case in the best possible light. This will increase your chances of a favorable alimony outcome. Don’t leave your financial future up to chance. Seek legal guidance to protect your interests during the divorce process.