When and How do Courts Order Spousal Support?

When married couples divorce, courts have the authority to order that one spouse pay the other spouse spousal support. Spousal support, which is also known as alimony or maintenance, is meant to protect a spouse’s standard of living. It is usually provided to spouses who have been out of the workforce during the marriage, who have taken part time jobs during the marriage, or who make considerably less than their spouse. Considerably less than half of all divorce settlements include spousal support. However, it is important for all divorcees to understand when they might be eligible for spousal support and the potential amount of spousal support so that they can be sure that they are getting fair and equitable divorce settlements.
Eligibility for Spousal Support
In order to receive spousal support, the spouse requesting the support must establish that he or she:
·         Has not entered a contract limiting spousal support. Every divorcing spouse has the opportunity to seek spousal support unless he or she has entered into a legally binding premarital agreement that restricts his or her right to receive alimony. In order for the premarital agreement to binding it must meet all of the requirements of state law and have been entered into without coercion or fraud. 
 
Some states limit the applicability of premarital agreements that waive spousal support and will allow a spouse to collect spousal support even if a valid premarital agreement is in effect if a denial of spousal support would result in a spouse being so poor as to qualify for state assistance.
 
·         Has a need for support. What constitutes a “need for support” is defined by state statutory or common law and differs among the states. Generally, courts will consider each spouse’s income, ability to earn future income, assets, standard of living maintained as a married couple, and any other circumstances which may be equitable for the couple.
Determining the Amount of Spousal Support
The primary factors in determining the amount of spousal support will be the need of the spouse receiving the support and the ability of the other spouse to pay the support. Unless a divorcing couple agrees to permanent spousal support, most spousal support agreements will be temporary and may be reviewed and changed by the court based on changed circumstances of the case. For example, spousal support may be awarded until the receiving spouse has gotten a job or for a specified number of years.
Important Things to Remember About Spousal Support
While it may seem evident, it is important to remember that spousal support is different than child support and that different considerations go into the determination of each type of familial obligation. Further, while historically alimony was mostly provided to wives who stayed home to take care of the family while their husbands worked, that is no longer true. Either a husband or a wife may collect spousal support if he or she qualifies for it and is awarded spousal support in a divorce proceeding. It is, therefore, important to carefully consider your specific situation before deciding whether or not to request spousal support in your divorce case.

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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