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Who’s Entitled to It – and Why?

Alimony. Also known as spousal support, many people who are contemplating divorce are familiar with the term – and many know that alimony is support paid from one spouse to the other in the event of a divorce. What fewer people understand, however, is how alimony is determined, and whether or not it may be awarded as a part of their divorce. These are important issues to understand, and worthwhile questions to ask. Let’s briefly take a look at the answers together. 

Knowing that alimony is support paid from one spouse to the other is only knowing part of the whole picture. It’s important to understand that typically, alimony is paid in situations where one spouse earns significantly more than another. Usually, the higher earner often referred to as the “supporting spouse,” will pay a particular amount at a regular schedule to the lower-earning spouse, often called the “dependent spouse”.

The general idea behind alimony is that both spouses have become accustomed to a certain standard of living during the marriage and that neither spouse should have to experience a drastic shift in their financial status because of a divorce. Certainly, we’re often asked, “Won’t we both be a little worse off financially after the divorce than before?” Yes, this is typically true – going from paying from one home and one set of utility bills to two will likely cause at least a temporary change in financial circumstances. The idea, though, is that neither spouse bears a disproportionate amount of that burden.

Although the idea of alimony may seem fairly straightforward, it can often become contentious during divorce proceedings. Sometimes, particularly if one spouse feels betrayed or hurt by the other spouse, he or she will want an excessive amount of alimony as a “punishment” for the hurtful behavior. It’s important to realize, however, that while marital misconduct may be one factor considered in awarding alimony, it is often not the controlling factor.

How long alimony lasts will often (although not always) depend upon the length of the marriage. Generally, the longer the couple was married, the longer alimony payments are expected to last. In one case, a couple may have been married for 20 years, and the wife may have stayed home with the children while the husband received his medical degree and worked long hours as a physician. In another case, a couple may have only been married for two or three years, during which time both worked jobs that paid fairly well. Typically, the spouse in the first example would receive significantly more alimony and for a longer period than the spouse in the second example.

Generally, courts seek to be fair as they make these determinations – and in many cases, spouses can come to an agreement on their own as to how much alimony should be paid, and for how long. As with most issues in divorce, doing so is often ideal. We hope that the resources in this section will be helpful to you as you contemplate alimony, and how the law might apply to your particular situation.  

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