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Everyone wants to know: what alimony is, who can get it, and how much it’s going to be.

Alimony Defined

Alimony, often referred to as “spousal support” or “spousal maintenance,” is a sum that the higher-earning spouse pays to the lower-earning spouse. Contrary to what many believe, alimony is intended to be more of an “equalizer,” not a get-rich-quick scheme. Each state will look at alimony differently; in some states it’s easier to get alimony than in others. In most marriages with average incomes, the alimony awarded to the lesser-earning spouse isn’t enough to live off of. Instead, the alimony is meant to supplement the spouse’s income so that the spouse can support themselves, or attain a standard of living that’s similar to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Even if your spouse has never worked, there’s generally an expectation that they will get a job and support themselves.

Who Can Get Alimony?

Whether or not alimony is awarded will depend on many factors. Most states require that a marriage lasts for a minimum amount of time before alimony can be considered or awarded. Usually, the higher-earning spouse needs to earn enough to provide for themselves and make the alimony payments. For example, if one spouse does not work, and the other spouse only makes $20,000 per year, it may be difficult for the higher-earning spouse to support themselves and pay alimony. In these cases, the court generally will not just deny alimony; they can still award alimony and expect both parties’ monthly income to have some deficit. Also, there usually needs to be a significant difference between the two incomes. If one spouse makes $45,000 per year, and the other earns $50,000 per year, it’s unlikely that the higher-earning spouse would be expected to pay alimony. Among other factors, judges will also consider the lower-earning spouse’s ability to earn an income. If a spouse chooses to stay at home with the kids, but has a four-year degree in computer science, they could probably get a job to help pay for their monthly expenses. This is especially true if they have a relatively recent work or educational history. The longer the spouse has been out of the workforce or removed from their education the more difficult it will be for them to maximize their income without additional training or work experience. A child support order and other unearned income sources are considered when determining alimony. If a party requesting alimony has alternative income sources, these funds will be applied to their expenses before turning to their spouse for financial support.

How Much Is Alimony?

When calculating the amount of alimony, judges will consider the need of the lower-earning spouse and the higher-earning spouse’s ability to pay. Since the lower-earning spouse can usually obtain some level of employment, they don’t need their ex to completely subsidize their expenses. And in some cases, the higher-earning spouse cannot afford to do this. Stories of men being ordered to pay thousands of dollars each month to “gold-digger” wives do not represent the vast majority of alimony awards. Alimony is intended to help the lower-earning spouse make ends meet, and attain a standard of living that is similar to that of the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

Generally, alimony payments will not exceed the length of the marriage and may be shorter than the length of the marriage. Though lifetime alimony is awarded, this is uncommon. Furthermore, most states require parties to be married for a certain length of time before the lower-earning spouse is eligible to receive alimony. Alimony payments can be paid monthly, in a lump sum, or in some other structure as the court finds to be appropriate under the circumstances. For example, if the alimony recipient is of an age where they could continue to work and they have some ability to learn or rehabilitate their education or skills, the court may order rehabilitative alimony. This is alimony for a period long enough for the recipient to obtain the ability to be self-sufficient. The court may also tier the alimony to encourage the recipient to incrementally improve their ability to earn and be self-sufficient. if both parties agree, the higher-earning spouse can give the lower earning spouse assets to offset the alimony award. For example, if your spouse is awarded a total of  $10,000 in alimony, and you have a car that’s worth $10,000, you may be able to give your spouse $10,000 in order to offset the alimony.

What About After the Divorce Is Finalized?

Most lawyers put a clause in the divorce that bars spouses from asking for alimony after the divorce is finalized. If there’s nothing in the decree that prevents it, a lower-earning spouse can ask for alimony after the divorce has been finalized. However, it normally doesn’t make sense to do this. Usually, asking for alimony after the divorce is finalized involves hiring an attorney and asking the court to award alimony. There are also additional requirements for the party requesting alimony that must be met for the court to modify the Decree of Divorce. The cost of getting alimony would need to outweigh the time and money it takes to go to court and fight for it in the first place. So if you want alimony, it’s always a good idea to request it before the divorce is finalized. It will be difficult to change your mind afterward. Generally alimony will terminate when the recipient spouse gets remarried, cohabitates, or dies. In some states if the recipient gets remarried and then divorced from that spouse, the alimony award from the previous spouse can be reinstated. In most cases, if there is a significant change in the circumstances of the parties the alimony award could be modified based upon those changes.

Got Questions about Alimony?

If you’re considering divorce, and you’ve got concerns about protecting your rights, contact CoilLaw today for an initial consultation.


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