Alimony and Spousal Support


Alimony, spousal support, or maintenance is the payment of support from one party to another in order to keep the receiving party in the lifestyle that they were accustomed to during the course of their marriage. Either party may receive alimony. Alimony is ordered by courts far less today than it was many years ago. This is due in part to the fact that many households are no longer one-income households.

Types of Alimony

There are three types of alimony: permanent, rehabilitative, and temporary alimony. Permanent alimony is typically awarded to an individual who is not and cannot become financially independent. Permanent alimony may not last for the life of the recipient. Factors include, but are not limited to: age of the parties, the recipient’s marital status, the recipient’s need for continued financial assistance, and a change in the payer’s ability to provide alimony. These are all taken into account when determining whether permanent alimony should be continued after initially awarded. Rehabilitative alimony is temporary in nature. It gives a party a chance to obtain an education or additional career training in order to become self-supporting. Temporary alimony is alimony that lasts for a specific period of time, usually one to two years. It is awarded in circumstances when the recipient needs a bit of financial assistance for a short and fixed period of time. Temporary alimony may also be awarded during the pendency of divorce proceedings.

How Alimony is Determined and Received

Whether a party is eligible for alimony is determined by the courts on a case-by-case basis. The court takes several factors into account, including:

  • Duration of marriage
  • Earning capacity of each spouse
  • Age of each spouse
  • Contributions the spouses made during the marriage (e.g. putting the other through school or staying home to raise children)
  • Age of children
  • Prenuptial Agreement

Courts may also consider any other economic circumstances in determining whether alimony is proper and the amount that should be awarded. Every state has different laws regarding alimony and the factors to be considered. More than one-half of the states in the country no longer take fault into account when granting or limiting alimony.

Alimony may be received weekly, monthly, or in a lump-sum payment. Either the parties or the court will determine the method of how alimony is received. Alimony is taxable income to the recipient and must be reported on yearly tax returns. It is also constitutes a deductible amount by the payer.

Alimony Modifications

The court may modify alimony if circumstances have changed. For example, a modification may be granted if a decrease in the payer’s ability to provide the original amount of alimony awarded to the recipient has occurred. A modification or cessation of alimony may be granted if the recipient remarries or if their circumstances change in a way that affects their financial status significantly. Alimony ceases upon the death of the payer.

Alimony Alternatives

Instead of having alimony awarded to one party for a temporary or permanent period of time, the party could, for example, receive a larger property settlement, stay in the family home, or keep an account that was previously in both parties’ names. Alimony in gross is not technically alimony, but refers to a property division payable either in a lump sum payment or in installment payments over a set period of time.