Alimony is a payment from one spouse to another as a result of a settlement agreement or a court order. It follows the end of a relationship. The purpose of alimony is to offset the unfair economic impact caused by a divorce. An example of this is when a stay-at-home parent needs a source of income but has not worked for many years.
FindLaw's Alimony section covers the basics of alimony law. By following the links, you can learn about types of spousal support, eligibility requirements, tax consequences, and more. See also, the link to a printable PDF, "FindLaw's Guide to Spousal Support."
What Is Alimony?
There are several types of alimony that could be ordered temporarily during a divorce proceeding or after a divorce decree. (Alimony does not always involve a divorce case.)
- Temporary alimony can provide financial support during a legal separation.
- A partner can request alimony even if they were in a cohabitation relationship and not married. This is sometimes referred to as "palimony."
- Rehabilitative alimony can be ordered while a person is in school.
- A judge may order permanent alimony for an elder or disabled ex-spouse.
Alimony is intended to improve the receiving spouse's financial situation. The court will determine a certain amount of support based on financial needs. Alternately, the married couple can agree between themselves.
Many factors go into determining a spouse's needs and the amount of alimony that may be ordered, such as:
- The age and physical condition of each party
- The length of the marriage
- Each party's earning capacity
- The length of time needed for training or education for the lower-earning spouse to become self-supporting
- The standard of living the couple enjoyed during the marriage
These factors vary by state.
Even when a court orders an earning spouse to pay permanent spousal support, that may not mean forever. Remarriage is common and alimony ends upon remarriage of the receiving spouse. The "Alimony Basics" article below outlines what you need to know.
What is the Difference Between Alimony and Spousal Support?
There is no practical difference between alimony and spousal support. Alimony is simply an older term.
Can I Get Alimony?
Most states have requirements that the receiving party must meet in order to be eligible for an alimony award. Length of marriage is a common one. For example, some states require that the parties be married at least 10 years.
The family court judge will consider the earning potential of each spouse. If one spouse lacks the education and work experience needed to become quickly self-sufficient, the judge may award rehabilitative alimony. They could also award money for retraining.
Alimony is gender neutral. Either spouse may be required to pay temporary or permanent spousal support.
Whether you are paying or receiving support, you will want to understand the tax consequences. See the articles "Alimony and Taxes" and "Records to Keep."
The IRS tax code changed in 2018. Alimony (or separate maintenance payments) are no longer tax-deductible if:
- The support order was executed after 2018, or
- The support order was executed before 2019 but later modified and the modification expressly stated that the alimony deduction did not apply.
Alimony payments are now neither deductible by the payer nor taxable to the recipient. The recipient should not include it in their gross income.
Review the questionnaire “Are You Entitled to Spousal Support?" to learn more about spousal support eligibility.
Is There Any Way to Legally Avoid Paying Alimony?
Alimony is not a given when a couple gets divorced. If both parties are earning income, which is often the case, a judge may determine that both spouses are capable of supporting themselves.
If a judge has ordered spousal support in an amount that is now too high for the payer, that person can go back to court to seek a reduction in alimony. Simply stopping payment of court-ordered support will have a lot of negative consequences for the non-payer.
If a support-receiving spouse is having trouble getting the money owed to them, they can seek court enforcement. A family court judge may cite the non-paying spouse for contempt of court for failing to fulfill a court order.
Alternatives to Monthly Spousal Support Payments
Good news for payers of alimony! You may be able to avoid years of annoying monthly spousal support payments. You can make one or a few lump sum alimony payments. See the article, "Avoiding Monthly Alimony Payments" to learn about this option.
State-Specific Spousal Support Forms and Resources
The article, "Forms and Information by State" provides links to resources in all 50 states. Click through to learn about alimony awards under state law. You can access the forms, motions, declarations, and affidavits you may need to file in state court.
Getting Legal Help
If you are getting divorced, speak to an experienced local divorce lawyer about how alimony is awarded in your state. If you have an alimony award but your former spouse is behind on payments, a family law attorney or creditor-debtor lawyer can help you get that money.