Understanding Alimony

Even though alimony is not as common as it was in the past, it can still be awarded in a divorce case. And, as recent headlines point out, more men are asking for spousal support as part of the divorce settlement.

The following information can help you understand the different types of spousal support and the situations in which it is awarded.

How much alimony can I expect to get?

Rita's Question: I've been married for 12 years and have 2 children. My lawyer suggests asking for permanent alimony. What can I expect and is it connected in any way to child support?

Timothy's Answer: Unlike child support, there are no set rules for alimony. Judges have enormous discretion when it comes to spousal support awards. Depending on the state you live in, some of the factors that determine the amount and duration of an award are:

  • the length of your marriage,
  • your standard of living while you were married,
  • each parties contributions, both monetary and non-monetary, to the marital estate,
  • your age,
  • the relative income of both parties,
  • the future financial prospects for each party,
  • health issues
  • and in some instances fault.

Some states may grant permanent support if the divorcing couple has had a long-term marriage and there is a substantial difference in the income potential of the two parties. However, in recent years the tendency to providing life-time support is decreasing in many states.

While your attorney may be asking for permanent alimony, you should know this is just a starting point for negotiation. Some attorney’s use these types of tactics; even if they know permanent support is not a likely outcome in a court of law, just to see how much bargaining room they have with the other side. Unfortunately, I cannot advise you on a normal award for a 12 year marriage. Your attorney should be able to give you better guidance based on the factors I listed above and the judge’s rulings in your area.

Spousal Support and Child Support are linked to the paying spouse's income and ability to pay. Spousal support is awarded based upon some of the criteria listed above and will be awarded if there is a sufficient need by the other party.

Will I have to pay spousal support if I make more money?

Mary's Question: If, on paper, I make more money than my husband am I subject to paying him maintenance?

Timothy's Answer: As far as your question on "maintenance", determining whether or not you will be responsible for paying support is a legal question that must be answered by an attorney. However, what I can tell you is the answer will vary depending on the state you live in.

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There is no uniform guideline among states to determine the amount and duration of spousal maintenance. Some states still award permanent support in cases of long-term marriages where one spouse has the capability of earning significantly more than the other, but this type of support is not as common as it was in earlier decades. In more recent times, spousal maintenance is more often awarded for a shorter period of time to allow the dependent spouse the opportunity to become self-supporting by returning to school or to receive vocational training.

Temporary maintenance is also sometimes provided so a parent can stay home to care for a young child. However, in the case there are children are involved, child support will be considered first. Maintenance can only be discussed after provisions have been made for the children's needs first. Sometimes, if one party is at fault, no spousal support will be awarded. However, over half the states no long consider marital-fault in determining the amount and duration of spousal support to be awarded. Please consult an attorney to learn about the support laws for your state.

With the help of counsel, you can begin negotiations to determine whether or not spousal maintenance will be paid, the amount, and the duration of payments. If you have minor children from the marriage, the amount of child support and related expenses must be calculated first. Only after this is done can the two of you examine your income and expenses to establish if spousal support is suitable in your situation.

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