After a divorce, the court may decide that you have to pay alimony to your spouse, or that your spouse must pay it to you. This differs from child support, and both spousal support -- simply another name for alimony -- and child support may be paid at the same time. It is crucial that you know about some of the more common laws governing this process, though it is also worth noting that these laws are state-specific.
Why Does Alimony Exist?
The basis behind alimony is simple: During the marriage, one spouse may have carried the financial burden while the other was supported. The supported spouse may have even given up on a promising career or educational opportunities when the two were married. If you did this, you may have begun raising children and taking care of the house. Regardless of the specifics, you grew accustomed to a certain level of support and a certain lifestyle, which it may be impossible for you to maintain after a split. Alimony allows you to maintain it and live as you anticipated.
The key here is that many marriages last for decades before they fall apart. While you may have been fresh out of college when you got married, you may be well behind in the job market 20 years later, unable to support yourself even if you wanted to.
Three Types of Payments
The type of payment that you get will depend on the state laws where you live and the ruling that the judge passes down. However, it will more than likely be one of the three following types:
- Payments made regularly -- such as once a month -- on a permanent basis
- Payments made regularly that end after a set amount of time
- A full lump sum given out just once
Many things will be considered when determining this, such as the way that you may have helped your spouse in his or her career, the amount of time that you had been married, and the like. If you were only together for three years, do not expect the same payments as someone who was married for 30.
One of the important things to know about alimony laws -- besides the fact that it is illegal to refuse to pay if it is ordered by the court -– is that reforms have been changing lately. In Florida, for example, a bill was recently passed that would have completely done away with any type of permanent alimony. Only temporary alimony would have been permitted, and the amount paid would have been reduced. However, this bill was vetoed by the governor.
Another example of these shifting laws came out of New Jersey, and this bill was signed by the governor. It made it so that alimony can't be paid out for longer than a couple was married, except in situations deemed to be "extreme," unless they were married for more than two decades. It also gave judges the power to cut off payments early if the receiving partner got married or moved in with a new partner. Furthermore, if the person paying lost a job and couldn't get a new one for 90 days, the judge was given the power to reduce what he or she had to pay.
These changes underscore how important it is to know what the laws are in your state, and to stay abreast of all changes and reforms as they come about.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.