Spousal Support

Alimony, or spousal support, may be award by the court when a couple gets a divorce.  The details may be the result of an agreement the couple reached or, if not agreement can be reached, by the court itself.  Alimony is mean to limit the unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing continuing income to the non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse.  It is supposed to last as long as is needed for the recipient spouse to become self-supportive, through education or training.  If the decree does not states when the payments end, the continue until the court orders them to cease.  Even the death of the payer does not necessarily end the payments.  If, for whatever reason, the recipient spouse is unlikely to become self-supportive, the court may order that the estate or life insurance of the payer continue to provide additional support.  However, alimony typically ends upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse.

Unlike child support, which is determined according to rigid guidelines, courts have considerable discretion in determining if they will award alimony and, if they do, the amount and time period for which it lasts. The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, which is the basis for many states’ laws, recommends that the following factors be considered when considering alimony:

  • The age, physical, emotion, and financial condition of the former spouses
  • The period of time the recipient would require for education or training in order to become self-sufficient
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The length of the marriage
  • The ability of the payer to support the recipient and still support himself or herself.

It is hard to determine the amount of the award and even more difficult to predict if the payer will go along with the order. Unlike child-support enforcement, enforcement mechanisms, alimony enforcement does not.  However, the recipient could return to court in a contempt proceeding in order to compel payment.

While in the past, payments where almost always made from the husband to the wife, this trend is reversing, due to the rise of women who are less dependant on their spouses.