How Does Alimony Work?

Written by S. Danilina and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Alimony, which is also called “spousal support”, is the financial support that the court orders one spouse to pay to the other spouse on a regular basis as the result of divorce. When the couple is married it is assumed that they share their combined income and support each other. In the case of divorce, alimony dictates that monetary payments must be made by a spouse who earns the higher income to a spouse who earns the lower income. With the help of alimony payment, the lower income earner can maintain a similar lifestyle he/she had while the couple was married. Alimony is separate and distinct from child support. Child support is not tax deductible, is paid to support the couple's children and is not considered to be an income of the parent who takes care of the children. Moreover, if a spouse fails to pay alimony, it will be quite difficult for a spouse who received alimony to dispute and collect any payment. However, if a spouse fails to pay child support it might result in significantly stricter legal penalties. The court may order to pay a temporary alimony during a separation period or while a divorce is pending. Alimony can also be ordered short-term, long-term and conditionally. Furthermore, under certain circumstances alimony can be combined with child support into a “family support” package. Not long ago, alimony payments were often made by a man to a woman because it was common for females to stay at home and take care of the family.

Today, how alimony will be awarded, or whether it will be awarded at all, entirely depends on the specifics of the couple’s marriage and their individual backgrounds. Alimony is not common now and only awarded in the unique situations. For instance, nowadays, if both spouses earn comparable incomes, alimony more likely will not be awarded at all. In cases when alimony can be awarded, it is a probability that an ex-wife will be ordered to pay alimony to her ex-husband.

When the courts try to determine the amount of alimony payments after the divorce, it takes into consideration both parties' income level, their standard of living before the divorce and their future earning potential. The court will also look into how long the marriage lasted, the cause of the divorce, the couple’s marital arrangements, the ex-spouses’ level of education and earning capacities, and what the supported spouse needs in order to become self-sufficient (for instance, it can be an additional education or time required to find a suitable job).

Furthermore, the court may order that alimony be terminated upon the supported spouse’s remarriage. This, however, only happens if the new spouse assumes financial responsibility for the supported spouse. Currently, the court may order to continue paying alimony to the supported spouse who is enrolled in a school or if she or he is not earning a sufficient income to be considered independent.

The formal marriage provides a good deal of legal protection and benefits to both parties. Thus, it is important for unmarried partners to have a written agreement regarding their rights, duties and obligations to each other. The written agreement between two unmarried partners provides the legal protection in case the relationship ends.

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