FAQ: Family Law

What is Alimony?

Alimony is temporary or permanent support paid from one spouse to another when a married couple divorces or legally separates. State and federal statutes provide guidelines to the court when determining whether to order spousal support, the amount and the duration of support. The specific provisions may differ from state to state, but most jurisdictions base their requirements on the federal Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA). Therefore, many states have the same general requirements for courts to take into account, such as the ages of the parties, financial condition of each individual, the length of time an individual may need to become self-supporting, the time-span of the marriage and the standard of living during the marriage.

When is Alimony Appropriate?

The purpose of alimony is to get a spouse back on his or her feet. This is most commonly in cases where one spouse is the “bread winner” and the other spouse works in the home or has otherwise supported the other spouse while he or she earned a professional degree or pursued career advancement. Spousal support is intended to help the spouse who would be at a financial disadvantage for the time it may take them to get job training or an education to enter the workforce and support himself or herself. The court determines how much time a party may need to become self-supporting. In some cases, an individual may be unable to enter the workforce due to age or mental, physical or health reasons. In these situations, the court may order permanent alimony for the duration of the spouse’s life. The amount and duration of alimony ordered by a court is determined by many statutory requirements and situational factors; therefore, each award of spousal support must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Are There Different Types of Alimony?

When the court awards alimony, the court order will specify the amount and duration. Spousal support payments may differ according to each situation. The duration will often be definite, but it can also be indefinite if the situation allows. If the payment is indefinite, it will end upon the death of the receiving ex-spouse. However, it does not always end when the paying ex-spouse dies. If the recipient spouse is not able to support himself or herself, the alimony may continue to be paid out of the estate or life insurance of the deceased spouse.

Some alimony payments are made in a lump sum and others have a set payment schedule. There are also situations where an alimony trust may be the best option for paying spousal support. An alimony trust may be set up for the purpose of paying spousal support or it may be an existing trust that is used to make alimony payments from the trust's proceeds. This may be a good option for an ex-spouse who is not able to make payments on his or her own, possibly due to incapacity. A trust may also be a good option to ensure that payments will be able to be made in the future, regardless of a change in circumstances.

Can Alimony be Terminated or Modified?

Alimony or spousal support may also be terminated or modified in certain circumstances. To do so, one of the ex-spouses (or both) must make a motion to the court and specify the reason(s) for the modification/termination. The reasons may differ; however, the most common reason is a negative change in circumstances that makes the paying spouse unable to pay alimony.

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