Alimony FAQ

Spousal support (or alimony) is a financial support payment from one divorced spouse to the other. Alimony helps lower-earning spouses maintain a reasonable standard of living until they can support themselves.


The following are answers to these frequently asked questions about spousal support.

Who Has the Legal Authority To Determine Alimony Eligibility and Amounts?

State alimony laws determine eligibility and amounts of an alimony settlement. Alimony is part of a legal separation or divorce proceeding. Judges consider whether one spouse has a financial need and whether the other spouse can pay.

Couples may decide if one spouse will pay spousal support to the other spouse.

How Do Family Courts Determine Eligibility for Alimony?

Family court judges determine eligibility for alimony according to state law. There are slight differences between states. Judges consider:

  • The length of the marriage. Long-term marriages are more likely to receive alimony.
  • The age and health of the recipient spouse. Judges are more likely to award older spouses or those in poor health alimony.
  • The recipient's actual need and the payor's ability to pay. Courts try to keep parties equal.
  • The recipient's earning capacity and period of time needed to become self-sufficient. If one spouse stayed home with minor children or supported the other party while they were going to school, the court may award them alimony.
  • The standard of living during marriage.

What Types of Alimony Are There?

Most states have three types of alimony. A few states call the award in the divorce decree “alimony," and money in a legal separation agreement is “spousal support." Other states use the terms interchangeably. Alimony is usually divided into three levels.

  1. Temporary alimony is sometimes called “pendente lite" alimony. The judge awards temporary alimony when the couple separates before the divorce or during a legal separation. The judge issues a temporary support order until the divorce case begins.
  2. Rehabilitative alimony is the typical alimony order in a divorce decree. It lasts until the recipient spouse is self-supporting or sometimes until remarriage.
  3. Permanent alimony is rarely granted. A judge may award permanent alimony to a spouse who will never be self-supporting due to age or disability.

How Much Alimony Do I Have To Pay?

The judge bases the support amount on the equitable property division during the divorce and the former spouse's ability to support themselves after the marriage. No state has a fixed amount for alimony. The goal of spousal support is to leave both parties about equal without impoverishing either one.

Alimony is not affected by child custody arrangements. Child support will not affect any spousal support payments.

How Long Do I Have To Pay Alimony?

The judge has discretion over the length of time for alimony payment. Permanent lifetime alimony is rare. Rehabilitative alimony has an end date or requires the former spouse to be self-sufficient within a “reasonable" period of time.

Monthly payments have been the norm, but alternatives exist, such as a few lump sum payments. Family law courts are open to alternatives if everyone agrees. Ask the judge or your attorney for options.

Can We Modify the Alimony Amounts?

Absolutely. You will need a court order for any change. Either spouse can request a modification of a support order if there has been a material change of circumstances. That could be a paying party's job loss or a receiving party's higher-paying job.

What if My Ex-Spouse Fails To Pay the Alimony Order?

Non-payment of alimony, a judge can find the non-paying spouse in contempt of court and sentence them to jail. In some states, garnishment of wages or other penalties is possible.

How Long Will I Receive Alimony From My Ex?

Spousal support is intended to bridge the gap until the spouse receiving alimony can support themselves. Spousal support ends when:

  • The paying spouse can make the case that the receiving spouse is self-supporting. Cohabitation with another person who is sharing household expenses may end alimony.
  • The receiving spouse remarries or dies.
  • The paying spouse dies. The paying spouse's estate may still need to pay the living ex-spouse.

Related Resource

More Questions About Alimony? An Attorney Can Help

Alimony is a lifesaver for divorcing spouses trying to transition to a new life. You need legal advice to make a reasonable decision about this life change. A divorce lawyer will advocate for you and help you get the spousal support you deserve. Find an experienced divorce attorney near you.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You may not need an attorney for a simple divorce with uncontested issues
  • Legal advice is critical to protect your interests in a contested divorce
  • Divorce lawyers can help secure fair custody/visitation, support, and property division

An attorney is a skilled advocate during negotiations and court proceedings. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Divorce is an ideal time to review your beneficiary designations on life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. You need to change your estate planning forms to reflect any new choices about your personal representative and beneficiaries. You can change your power of attorney if you named your ex-spouse as your agent. Also, change your health care directive to remove them from making your health care decisions.

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