What is Alimony Law?

The purpose of alimony is to prevent a spouse from becoming financially dependent on the other. When a couple part ways, the marital property will be divided equitably.

However, the division of marital property may not be enough to avoid a financially devastating outcome for one spouse.

For example, perhaps one spouse decided to pursue a lower-paying career, forgoing the opportunity to earn more money. To help ensure enough remains to maintain the standard of living during the marriage, the court will order alimony. (Several states in the U.S. are challenging this marital one-hit with statutes ending permanent alimony).

The amount and duration of alimony are determined according to state law. The time of the payments will depend on several factors, including the length of the marriage and the needs of the spouse and any children.

According to the family law statutes of most states, alimony may be awarded to provide temporary or permanent support to the dependent spouse based on several factors. These include the supporting spouse's ability to pay, the length of the marriage, and, in the case of requests for permanent alimony, the time it will take the supported spouse to achieve economic self-sufficiency. If the supporting spouse has custody of the couple's minor children, an alimony award will also reflect the extent to which that spouse must sacrifice career opportunities to care for the children in the years ahead.

Prenuptial agreements can be an excellent way for couples to agree on how alimony should be provided during a marriage. These contracts can limit a spouse's post-marital alimony obligations or even specify that it will be provided for a specific period. So, prenuptial agreements can be made if a couple decides they either do not want or cannot shoulder the same amount of alimony payments after a divorce.

Types of Alimony

Whether you're a man or a woman, should you ever get a divorce, then chances are alimony will be a part of your financial plan. Here's how different it may be depending on which side of the alimony equation you sit in.

The fourth type of spousal support is called reimbursement alimony. This is designed to repay contributions made during the marriage. For example, reimbursement alimony is appropriate when the supported spouse paid for the other spouse to earn an advanced degree (such as law school or medical school.), but the marriage did not last long enough for both to enjoy the financial rewards of that education.

Establishing a Right to Support

Alimony is a matter of presenting facts about the marriage relationship in a way that addresses the statutory guidelines. For instance, a typical alimony statute might include the marital standard of living as a factor for the court to consider. Thus, to maximize the amount of alimony, the supported spouse should gather and present evidence of the couple's regular expenditures during the marriage. In addition to receipts, account statements, and other documents, the supported spouse could call the couple's acquaintances to testify about what life was like in the household before the divorce.

Of course, a spouse seeking alimony may not have personal access to all financial records bearing the issue of the couple's past finances. The discovery process is meant to rectify this problem. Discovery is the procedure whereby each party demands that the other turn over copies of relevant evidence. In an alimony case, discovery is sure to include all forms of financial information. In short, the supporting spouse cannot try to hinder or prevent the efforts of the supported spouse by refusing to allow access to the evidence needed to establish a right to receive alimony.

Modification of an Alimony Award

All types of alimony have the same general goal: to provide financial stability and support for the supported spouse. Maintenance may be awarded to address the supported spouse's needs when the alimony order is established. But what if those needs suddenly change? Can alimony be modified or terminated? We'll address these questions in this blog.

Consult an Alimony Lawyer

If you have questions about your alimony rights or obligations, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney in your area. There are numerous factors outside of your control that can affect these. Even if you have a cordial relationship with your former spouse, alimony is an issue that requires independent legal advice.