Posted by: Shel 11 Comments

Alimony 101In the olden days, couples got divorced and the man paid alimony – it was a given. Flash forward a few decades. Now there are criteria the judge explores before awarding alimony – if alimony is even going to be awarded. And yet, many still think that spousal support (another name for alimony) is going to be automatic – and in the wife’s favor. Not true!

What is the purpose of alimony?

To help support the spouse who is financially disadvantaged in a divorce for a period of time to allow the spouse to attain self-sufficiency. Many spouses do not work, work only part time, or work in a job that does not pay enough to support them. While the parties are together, the situation is often optimal because it allows one parent to be available for the children, frees up a spouse to participate in support for the other party’s career, or just is in keeping with how the parties want to live.

However, when one household becomes two, the spouse earning less often isn’t self-supporting. Alimony isn’t intended to balance the income between households or to punish an errant spouse. it is to assist the financially disadvantaged spouse during a time of (legal term alert) economic transition. In other words, it’s financial assistance while the recipient gets more education, training, or time to find employment that will allow self-support.

What does the judge consider when deciding whether or not to award alimony?

Generally speaking, first the judge is going to look at whether one spouse has a need for financial assistance from the other. The ‘need’ has to be connected to the marriage. For instance, a spouse who doesn’t receive child support for children from a prior marriage may have a need for financial help, but that need has nothing to do with the marriage so it will not be taken into consideration. Need is demonstrated by showing that the seeker isn’t able to cover reasonable living expenses. If the judge finds there is a need, the second thing that must be determined is if the other spouse has the ability to pay.

How much is alimony and for how long is it paid?

Most states don’t have a set formula to answer either question. The judge will take into account factors such as the length of the marriage, the health of the parties, the earning capacity of the parties, the ages of the parties, the cost to educate/train the recipient, the lifestyle the parties had during marriage and other relevant factors.

It’s up to the party asking for alimony to prove there is a need and to demonstrate to the judge what it is and for how long assistance would be ‘necessary’ to get them to a point of self-sufficiency. The judge has a lot of discretion in determining how much will be paid and for how long. Each party will need to rely on the expertise of their attorney regarding how to present information to the judge as well as understanding any biases a given judge may have for or against alimony. (Biases? From a judge? Remember: judges are human beings with their own life experiences that sometimes play a part in their decision-making philosophy.)

Alimony ends at a time set by the judge, remarriage of the receiving party, or upon the death of either party unless the parties have made an agreement to the contrary.

Assumptions about alimony

Don’t make them. Talk to an attorney who is experienced in Family Law in the state you live in and ask how it works there. Based on their experience with the law, their familiarity with the assigned judge, and your particular financial facts, they can often provide you a reasonable expectation with regard to whether or not paying or receiving alimony is likely in your case.

Alimony 101 - life is expensiveHave you had a positive or negative experience with alimony?


Like This Post? Never Miss Another!
We respect your privacy.

Leave a Reply


  • Broderick Hardrick

    If the spouse just does not want to work during the marriage why should she get alimony. This is after being asked to get a job to help with bills.

    • Shel Harrington

      Sounds like you had a very frustrating alimony result, Broderick. While I’m not familiar with your specific case, I can sympathize with the frustration of unexpected results. There seems to be no consistency or predictability about how alimony will be decided from judge to judge and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. I appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    • Janice Mitchell

      Unless it was directly communicated ‘No I will not work’, then maybe there was a miscommunication of expectations. You sound as if you see alimony as a burden on you. I certainly hope you don’t feel that it’s ok to walk away with the ‘sink or swim’ mentality.

      • Broderick Hardrick

        There was no miscommunication I said to her she needs to get a job to help out bc with a family of 6 its hard on one income. She is able to work and there is nothingwrong with her. She had a job when we got marriedwhy cant she work. Anyway feel like I you are an able body you work not only for you but for your kids. I broke my back for 17years and I have the best that god could ever give me and thats my kids other that that nothing. So you are right sink or swim. If she was working and we got divorceits no problem I would help because of the changeother than that its just like able bodies on welfarethey want a hand out and I have been handing out for years with nothingbut grief in return.

  • Basics of the term are clearly explained, Shel. So sad that it even needs to be discussed… 🙁

  • Garrett and I joke that we have to make our marriage work because we don’t want to risk our financial security. It sounds like there’s more truth to that than we thought!

    • Shel Harrington

      Nothing like a dispute about money to see what ugly looks like! Glad you guys are ugly-proofing things for you both as well as your adorable tots!

      • Ha! Actually, we rarely argue about finances. He told someone once he fell in love with me because I’m “financially responsible.” Now….THAT statement we’ve had a few arguments about.:)

  • Thankfully, I have no personal experience with alimony, other than the 18 years I worked in a family law practice. Oh the stories…

    • Shel Harrington

      If one doesn’t already have enough incentive to keep their marriage intact, working in a family law office for 18 years could sure add some! You may have heard the expression: In criminal law you see bad people at their best; in family law you see good people at their worst. We definitely see some ugly!

Get updated by email when there's a new post!
We respect your privacy.