Divorce Law

Alimony Laws

After a divorce, the court may decide that you have to pay alimony to your spouse, or that your spouse must pay it to you. The basis behind alimony is simple: During the marriage, if one spouse carried the financial burden while the other was supported, that person deserves continued support. The supported spouse may have even given up on a promising career or educational opportunities.

Determining alimony payments can be quite contentious. If it is becoming a sticking point in divorce negotiations, make sure to discuss all of your options with your attorney.

What Is Alimony?

Alimony is also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance. The intention of alimony payments is to support the one spouse for as long as necessary after a divorce. A judge can order alimony for a set term of years or until a specific change in circumstances.

If the judge orders payments to you or your ex, these payments may be based on a specific calculation or the judge's discretion. Alimony is not generally based on fault or the cause of the divorce. Instead, it is base on several factors, including:

  • Financial resources and needs
  • Jointly owned and separate property
  • Present and future earning capacity
  • Your standard of living during the marriage
  • The length of the marriage
  • The time required to gain employment opportunities
  • Age and health
  • The contributions you each made to your marital finances

The court may increase the alimony award for a long marriage where one spouse didn't work and instead focused on maintaining the household and raising children. In some cases, a judge may award zero alimony, such as if both you and your ex worked and are on similar financial footing.

Which Spouse Can Receive Alimony?

Alimony is not just for women. Either spouse in a marriage can receive spousal support. The sex of the spouse has nothing to do with spousal support. A judge will primarily consider financial factors and state laws. The spouse who pays is generally the one with more financial resources available.

Types of Alimony Payments

The type of payment will depend on your state's laws and the individual court order. Alimony payments usually take one of the following forms:

  • Regular payments that do not end until a change in circumstances
  • Regular payments that end after a set amount of time
  • One lump-sum payment

Changes to Alimony

For spousal support payments to end, a substantial change in circumstances may need to occur. This could include the receiving spouse dying, getting remarried, or having a significant change in income. Similarly, the paying spouse may have to continue the payments until they have a significant change in income. If the paying spouse loses their job, they may have to continue paying until the court changes the alimony order. Either party may petition the court to modify or terminate the alimony payments.

Enforcing Alimony Payments

If your ex-spouse is not making support payments, you may need to go to court to enforce the alimony order. If you are not receiving your court ordered payments, contact your family law attorney for help. Your lawyer can take action to force the former spouse to make payments, make back payments, or garnish their wages to enforce the court's orders.

On the other side, if you are making spousal support payments and you suffer a sudden loss of income that makes paying alimony difficult, do not simply stop paying. Talk to your attorney about seeking a modification. Simply refusing to pay could lead to a judge holding you in contempt of court. Failing to pay spousal support will not make the payments go away.

Prenuptial Agreements and Alimony

A prenuptial agreement is a contract that you and your fiancé negotiate before the marriage to enforce certain terms in the event of a separation. A prenup can limit the amount of spousal support if you ever divorce. The court will likely enforce the terms of a prenuptial agreement if you have a signed and valid prenup. If one spouse coerces the other to sign a prenup, the contract may be unenforceable. If you have any questions about how a prenup will affect your financial support after a divorce, talk to an experienced family law attorney.

Child Support and Spousal Support

Child support is separate from spousal support. Child support provides the custodial parent with financial resources after separation. The non-custodial parent generally has to make recurring payments to provide for the costs of raising a child. Unlike spousal support, a parent cannot sign away their rights to child support in a prenuptial agreement. Additionally, whether a judge awards child support will have little effect on whether a judge also awards alimony.

Do You Need an Attorney for Alimony Matters?

Alimony can be a sensitive issue for each spouse in a divorce. Whether someone is paying or receiving alimony, there will be difficult discussions about who deserves what and who contributed what to a marriage.

If you have any questions about who is required to pay alimony, you should contact an experienced divorce attorney to talk through your options. Attorneys who handle divorces and other family law disputes may be able to help you negotiate an appropriate alimony plan that is fair and equitable.