Alimony, Spousal maintenance/support

1) What does the term “spousal support” (or, “alimony”) mean?

“Spousal support” (sometimes called “alimony”) is money paid by one spouse to the other due to the payee spouse’s loss of the benefit of the payor spouse’s income due to the divorce. Alimony is supposed to help lessen the financial hardship that often accompanies divorce. It is meant to assist the more financially-dependent spouse, not to punish a spouse. Either spouse may request maintenance from the other, regardless of how the marriage ended.

2) Is spousal support available while the divorce is pending in court, or only after the divorce has become final?

The court may order that one spouse support the other during the pendancy of the divorce action and/or after the divorce has become final. Support awarded pending the final decree of divorce is not to extend beyond the period of time necessary for the prosecution of the divorce action.

3) What factors will the court consider when determining how much alimony to award to a party?

The court may grant a maintenance order for either spouse. The maintenance order shall be in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, after considering all relevant factors.

After a long marriage, a dependent spouse may need additional education or training to become financially independent. In such a case, a court also considers the time necessary for the requesting spouse to complete training and find employment suitable for the spouse’s interests and skills.

There is no one formula to determine the amount and frequency of maintenance payments. Instead, the court considers many factors to come up with a fair award. These factors include the duration and standard of living during the marriage, and the requesting spouse’s age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations. The court also looks at the requesting spouse’s financial resources, such as the separate or community property acquired at divorce, and this spouse’s ability to self-support. Likewise, the court evaluates the other spouse’s ability to pay.

In addition to these listed factors, a court is free to look at anything else that impacts the spouses’ financial well-being after divorce. It also has wide discretion in how the payments are structured.

4) Is a court order always necessary?

Many divorcing spouses agree to the amount and length of payments on their own when they complete a divorce agreement. If one spouse wants to receive maintenance payments and can’t get the other to agree, however, a court will have to decide whether to award maintenance and the terms of the obligation.