Understanding Alimony

Understanding Alimony

Between 40 and 50 percent of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. While divorce is increasingly common, it’s never easy. Among the most emotionally draining and contentious issue in divorce cases is alimony (also called spousal support).

What is alimony?

It is a court-ordered obligation requiring one spouse (typically top wage earner) to pay the other spouse a specific amount of money for a period of time. The payments seek to reduce the financial impact of a divorce.

Who makes the final decision about alimony?

In most cases, the judge presiding over the divorce will make the decision.

What factors are considered when determining alimony?

  • The duration of the marriage.
  • Each spouse’s health and age.
  • Earning potential of both spouses.
  • Education levels of both spouses.
  • The couple’s assets and debt.
  • Whether minor children are involved.
  • Any facts the court may decide is relevant.

What expenses does alimony cover?

The payments are designed to address ongoing expenses, such as shelter, food, clothing, transportation, utilities, etc.

When can alimony be changed?

When a divorced couple’s financial circumstances have changed significantly (e.g., the wealthier spouse loses a job or poorer spouse secures a high-paying job, etc.). If the poorer spouse makes no attempt to recover financially, the court may reduce the amount or end alimony payments altogether.

Are all alimony agreements alike?

No. Many states offer four kinds of alimony, including:

  • Rehabilitative Support: Often awarded to spouses who don’t yet have the job skills or education to earn enough money to support themselves. This is usually a temporary form of support.
  • Temporary Support: Awarded to the lower-earning spouse to cover basic costs during the divorce proceedings after the other spouse has moved out of home and before the divorce is finalized.
  • Lump-Sum Support: A one-time, up-front payment (a fixed amount that can’t be modified) given to the lower-earning spouse calculated to cover all future expenses.
  • Permanent Support: Awarded to the lower-earning spouse that does not end until the recipient remarries or dies.

Should you hire an attorney?

Generally, it’s recommended that each spouse hire their own attorney during a divorce. An attorney with alimony experience can be especially helpful in projecting future income and earning power (of both spouses), as well as selecting the most appropriate kind of alimony for their clients.

Alimony involves intricate laws that require legal expertise, as an alimony lawyer from a firm like Patterson Bray, can explain.