What is Alimony?

What is Alimony?

When married couples get divorced, the court could grant “alimony” or spousal maintenance to one of the ex-spouses, based on either an agreement among the ex-spouses or by a court decision. This is different from the splitting of marital property and is decided case-by-case.

A lot of individuals have questions concerning alimony vs. child support in addition Alimony is different than child support since child support can only be used for minor children during the time they are with the custodial parent. Below discusses the basics of alimony and spousal maintenance.

Intent of Alimony

The intent of alimony is to restrict any unjust economic impact of a divorce by providing a continual income to a unwaged or lesser-waged ex. Part of the grounds is that an ex-spouse might have chosen to abandon a career for supporting the family and requires time to improve job skills for supporting themselves. Another intention may be to assist a spouse in continuing the lifestyle they were used to throughout marriage in spite of changes to income, income taxes and returns, bonuses, taxable income, etc.

How the Amount is Established

Different from child support, in which a lot of states is ordered in accordance to very particular monetary regulations, courts have wide discretion in establishing whether to grant spousal maintenance and, if that is the case, the amount and its timeline. The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, in which a lot of states’ spousal support laws are based on, suggests that courts consider the following elements while making decisions concerning them granting alimony:

  • The age, physical health, state of mind, and financial status of the previous spouses;
  • The amount of time the recipient is going to need for schooling or instruction to become self-supporting;
  • The couple’s quality of life throughout the marriage;
  • The duration of the marriage; and
  • The capability of the payer spouse to support the recipient and at the same time support themselves.

Alimony and Support Orders

Estimating alimony awards is challenging, but ensuring compliance from the payer is even more so. Alimony enforcement lacks the robust mechanisms of child support like wage garnishments or liens. However, recipients can initiate contempt proceedings in court for enforcement, utilizing the same tools available for enforcing any court order. Since alimony is court-ordered, the devices for enforcing court orders are available to former spouses owed alimony.

How Long is Alimony Required to Be Paid?

Alimony is often considered “rehabilitative,” providing support until the recipient achieves necessary training for self-sufficiency. Without a specified end date in the divorce decree, payments persist until the court directs otherwise.

Many orders cease upon the recipient’s remarriage. Termination upon the payer’s death isn’t automatic. In cases where the recipient may struggle to gain employment due to age or health, the court may order continued support from the payer’s estate or life insurance proceeds.

Alimony Trends

Previously, alimony mainly involved wage-earning husbands paying their non-working wives. With societal changes, dual-income marriages, and evolving gender roles, spousal support dynamics have shifted. Men as primary parents and women’s independence have influenced court decisions, leading to an increase in women paying alimony to ex-husbands.

The landscape further transforms due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling legalizing same-sex marriages nationwide. This decision contributes to a rise in alimony orders in same-sex divorces, where higher-earning partners may be obligated to support their dependent same-sex spouses.

Reach out to a Family Law Attorney for Your Alimony Questions

Alimony often surfaces in divorces, impacting financial adjustments post-marriage. Whether settled through mediation or trial, understanding spousal support options is crucial. Consult with a local divorce law attorney for guidance on potential obligations or entitlements.


    1. Spousal support (alimony) basics. Findlaw. (2019, October 7). Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://www.findlaw.com/family/divorce/spousal-support-alimony-basics.html.

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