Spousal Support - Another Name for Alimony
Key Points
  • Spousal support and alimony are often terms used interchangeably, especially depending upon the state. Spousal support can often be categorized as a payment for a shorter period of time, for example up until adequate employment is found.
  • Each state has factors that are considered (located in the state statutes), but one that is significant that varies by state is the consideration of Marital Misconduct (for example adultery or domestic abuse).
  • Future earning capacity plays as huge role in the decision regarding how much spousal support is to be paid and for how long.

Courts still tend to seek to protect women, particularly those who have been in long-term marriages and out of the workforce. Judges understand that a career as a homemaker, which has obvious economic value to the family and society, does not translate into economic marketability. For this reason, in divorces involving couples where the man is a dominant wage earner, courts award women substantial spousal support in addition to what would appear to be a large share of the marital estate. This is particularly true in the case of long-term marriages where the children are adults. Prior to the no-fault ground for divorce, awards of alimony, which is another name for spousal support, were made on the idea that they were punitive; that is, it was used to punish the guilty for bad conduct leading to the breakdown of the marriage. In this, fault on the part of a spouse could be a bar to the receipt of alimony or a reason to compel one spouse to pay the other.

Some of the possible factors that bear on the amount and duration of the support areas follows, but the laws do vary by state:

  • Length of the marriage or civil union: Generally, the longer the marriage or civil union, the longer the duration of alimony. A marriage or civil union of over 10 years is often a candidate for permanent alimony.
  • Time separated while still married: In some states, separation is a triggering event, recognized as the end of the term of the marriage. Other U.S. states do not recognize separation or legal separation. In a state not recognizing separation, a 2-year marriage followed by an 8-year separation will generally be treated like a 10-year marriage.
  • Age of the parties at the time of the divorce: Generally courts consider more youthful spouses to be more able to 'get on' with their lives and are therefore thought to require shorter periods of support.
  • Relative income of the parties: States that recognize a right of the spouses to live according to the means to which they have become accustomed adjust the incomes of the spouses so that they are able to approximate, as best possible, their prior lifestyle.
  • Future financial prospects of the parties: A spouse who is going to realize significant income in the future is likely to have to pay higher alimony than one who is not.
  • Health of the parties: Poor health goes towards need and potentially an inability to support oneself. The courts do not want to leave one party indigent.
  • Fault in marital breakdown: In states where fault is recognized, fault can significantly affect alimony, increasing, reducing or even nullifying it. Many states are 'no-fault' states, where one does not have to show fault to get divorced. No-fault divorce spares the spouses the acrimony of the 'fault' processes, and closes the eyes of the court to any and all improper spousal behavior. However, in some states, like Georgia for example, a person who has an affair that causes the divorce is not entitled to alimony.
  • Gender of the recipient: In general, females may be more likely to be granted alimony than males because, historically, males made more money than females, partly due to having had fewer gaps in employment.

In setting spousal support, therefore, courts may consider how the marital property is divided, the marital standard of living, each spouse's separate assets, the length of any premarital cohabitation, the spouse's age and health, the needs of the children and the ability of the dependent spouse to return to work (if children are a factor), the contributions one spouse made to other's education or career advancement, and presumptive inheritances.

Suggested Reading
The Spousal Support Handbook The Spousal Support Handbook
Spousal support is one of many issues that is often difficult for spouses to agree upon. Before negotiating and even signing an agreement regarding spousal support it is very important that you understand your rights and the repercussions of any actions taken.

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ALIMONY BLUES – Courts are most likely to award permanent alimony in the case of a middle-aged stay-at-home mother who faces a heroically difficult climb to reenter a job market indifferent to her stale job skills. Even though lifetime alimony is raw material for standup comedians in nightclubs, the career homemaker very often needs this protection.
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