Spousal support is a payment from one spouse to another because of a settlement agreement or a court order. Once known as alimony, its new name reflects that either spouse may receive the benefit. The court orders spousal support during a divorce or separation. A spouse must request the alimony order, and a judge then determines that the spouse is in need. It's part of the divorce process.
The purpose of alimony is to relieve the monetary impact caused by a divorce. For example, one spouse is a stay-at-home parent during the marriage. They have not worked for many years and may need help supporting themself. The court may award spousal support to that spouse, although alimony differs from child support.
To learn about the types of spousal support available, eligibility, and more, ask your divorce lawyer and explore FindLaw's Alimony section. You may also look at this printable PDF, FindLaw's Guide to Spousal Support.
What Is Spousal Support?
There are several types of alimony. Spousal support could be temporary during the divorce proceedings or after a divorce decree is entered. Spousal support does not always involve a divorce case.
- Temporary spousal support can provide financial support during a legal separation.
- Rehabilitative alimony can be ordered while a person is in school.
- A judge may order permanent spousal maintenance for an elderly or disabled ex-spouse.
Spousal support is intended to improve the receiving spouse's financial situation. The court will determine a certain amount of support based on financial need. The married couple can agree to an amount between themselves.
Many factors go into determining an ex-spouse's needs and the amount of spousal support that the supporting spouse must pay, such as:
- The age and physical condition of each party
- The length of the marriage
- Each party's earning capacity
- The period of time needed for the lower-earning ex-spouse to become self-supporting
- The standard of living the couple enjoyed during the marriage
- Each spouse's contribution to the marriage
These factors vary by state. You can explore the laws for your state on FindLaw.
Even when a court orders a spouse to pay permanent alimony, that may not mean forever. Remarriage of the receiving ex-spouse can end the spousal support obligation. The Spousal Support (Alimony) Basics article outlines what you need to know.
Can I Get Spousal Support?
Most states have requirements that the spouse must meet to be eligible for an award of spousal support. The length of the marriage is a common consideration for the amount of alimony awarded. For example, some states say the parties must be married for at least 10 years.
The family court judge will consider the earning potential of each spouse. A judge may award rehabilitative alimony if one spouse cannot be self-sufficient. They could also award money while the receiving spouse attends school or training for a career. Spousal maintenance is gender-neutral. Either spouse can be required to pay temporary or permanent spousal support.
Whether paying or receiving spousal support, you will want to understand its tax consequences. You can review the articles Alimony and Taxes and Alimony: Records to Keep to learn more about divorce law.
The IRS tax code changed in 2018. Alimony payments (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 changed to state that the spousal support deduction did not apply.
The recipient must include spousal support in their gross income for tax purposes. Review the Are You Entitled to Alimony (Spousal Support)? questionnaire to learn more about spousal support eligibility.
Is There Any Way to Legally Avoid Paying Spousal Support?
Spousal support is not a given when a couple gets divorced. A judge may determine that the spouses can support themselves if both parties earn income. No spousal support will be ordered.
If a judge has ordered alimony in an amount that is now too expensive for the supporting spouse, they can go back to court and seek a reduction in their payments to the alimony recipient. Stopping payment of court-ordered support will have negative consequences for the non-payer. If a support-receiving spouse has trouble getting the money owed, they can seek court enforcement. A family court judge may cite the non-paying spouse for contempt for failing to fulfill a court order or begin garnishing their paycheck.
Alternatives to Monthly Spousal Support Payments
Good news for alimony payers: You can avoid years of annoying monthly spousal support payments. You can make one or a few lump-sum alimony payments.
State-Specific Spousal Support Forms and Resources
Findlaw lists spousal support forms and laws by state to help you with legal information. 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 your state court.
Getting Legal Help
If you are getting divorced, speak to an experienced local divorce attorney about how spousal support 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.