Spousal Support

The issue of spousal support (also known as "alimony" or "spousal maintenance") frequently arises in divorce cases. During divorce proceedings, a family law attorney can help a client negotiate the terms of spousal support. An attorney can also provide representation to a client who is seeking to modify or enforce the terms of the original order. In many states, a court may order temporary spousal support while the divorce is pending. 

The purpose of spousal support in most cases is to help maintain the lower-earning spouse's standard of living following a divorce. It may also be intended to help the recipient get an education or job training in order to enter the workforce. By ordering support, courts try to prevent one party from deriving an unfair financial advantage in a divorce.

Some spouses may be able to reach an agreement on spousal support on their own and submit it to the court for approval. This is often achieved through negotiations by attorneys or through an alternative dispute resolution like mediation.

When is Spousal Support Granted?

An award of spousal support is not automatic. In fact, it is actually ordered in less than half of all divorces. A divorce lawyer may be tasked with arguing why spousal support should not be available. When making a determination on whether or not to grant spousal support, a court may consider several factors. Some factors may include:

  • the length of the marriage,
  • the relative incomes of the spouses,
  • whether one spouse remained home so that the other could work/advance their career,
  • the ages of the spouses, and
  • the likelihood that a non-earning spouse can enter the workforce. 

If the court orders an award of spousal support, it will determine the amount by looking at the relative incomes of both parties as well as the payer's ability to pay. In some states, the judge may use statutory guidelines for amounts to determine how much to order.

The Duration of the Order

Spousal support may be ordered for a specified period of time or indefinitely. Indefinite orders are rare, however. In some cases, people will be entitled to receive support until they achieve certain milestones, such as finishing their education and securing employment. In other cases, courts will award it for a specific number of years. The remarriage of a recipient will in most instances terminate the award.

If a paying party falls behind on spousal support payments or does not pay the ordered amount at all, then the recipient may pursue legal remedies. The judge may issue a wage garnishment, which automatically deducts payments from the payer’s paychecks. Other methods of enforcement could include bank account levies or the placing of a lien on the payer's house.

Modifications of Spousal Support

What if financial circumstances change for either spouse? Courts permit spouses to file motions to modify the alimony portion of a divorce decree. An attorney should be consulted to prepare a motion for modification motion of spousal support.

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.

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