Spousal Support (Alimony)

Learn more about spousal support after divorce.

By , Attorney · Cooley Law School

Divorce can be a long, drawn-out process, but in the end, a court legally terminates your marriage, and you're generally free to move on with your life. However, while divorce ends your marriage, it doesn't always mean that you're done supporting your spouse, especially if you earn significantly more money.

What Is Spousal Support (Alimony)?

Spousal support, or alimony, is court-ordered financial assistance paid from one spouse to the other. It's common to see judges grant spousal support in divorce cases where the couple was married for a long time or where one spouse gave up a career to raise the couple's children, take care of the working spouse, and/or handle all of the household matters.

There are Different Types of Spousal Support

Not all spousal support is the same—the amount and duration of alimony will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your case. Most states offer different types of spousal support, including:

  • rehabilitative support
  • temporary support
  • lump-sum support, and
  • permanent support.

Rehabilitative Support

Rehabilitative alimony is typically granted to spouses who don't yet have the job skills or education to enter the workforce and earn enough money to support themselves. Put simply, the idea behind this type of alimony is to provide an unemployed spouse the necessary time and financial assistance to become self-supporting. The duration of rehabilitative spousal varies, depending on the facts of each case, but it's generally temporary and can be reviewed at the end of the term.

Temporary Support

From beginning to end, a divorce can take some time to complete and typically requires one spouse to move out of the marital home. During this time, spouses must continue paying the rent or a mortgage, property taxes, and other joint bills and expenses. To address these financial concerns, a judge may order temporary spousal support to the lower-earning spouse in order to maintain the status quo and cover basic necessities during the divorce proceeding. This type of alimony ensures that both parties can financially support themselves through the process.

Lump-sum Support

Lump-sum support is a way for a paying spouse to alleviate the long-term requirement of monthly payments after the divorce. Lump-sum alimony is a fixed amount that can't be modified later and is paid up-front, so the recipient spouse doesn't need to wait for a monthly check. The court will typically determine what the total monthly future payments would be after the divorce, and order a lump-sum payment equal to that amount.

Permanent Support

Permanent spousal support typically continues until the recipient remarries or dies (or the paying spouse dies). Some states terminate permanent spousal support if the recipient cohabitates with a new partner, but each state has specific rules for cohabitation and alimony. Courts typically reserve permanent spousal support for long-term marriages where there is a large discrepancy of income.

Spousal Support Factors

Each state has specific spousal support factors for the judge to evaluate. Unlike child support, which the court usually determines by a formula, most judges have broad discretion on whether to award spousal support and if so, the amount and duration of the assistance.

Typically, courts will evaluate:

  • the length of the marriage
  • each party's ability to work
  • both spouse's health and age
  • the financial status of each party after the divorce
  • the recipient's need for support and the paying spouse's ability to pay
  • general principals of fairness, and
  • how each party behaved during the marriage (in some states).

If you're going through a divorce and need alimony, or if your soon-to-be-ex is requesting financial support, consult with an experienced family law attorney before you proceed.

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