Understanding Alimony

Alimony is often called spousal support. It's designed to provide an income for the non-breadwinner spouse in the event of a divorce. Although relatively common, it is also misunderstood. The following guide can help you better understand how alimony works and whether it is a viable option in your divorce.

Is alimony only for those with children?

No. Alimony is designed to replace some of the income loss of the non-working spouse during a divorce, it is not a form of child support. If you have children, you may be able to get both child support and alimony if you are the primary custodial parent.

Which spouse is eligible for alimony?

Alimony is awarded to the spouse that was the lower earner. It is not just for women and it can be awarded to either spouse. In general, the spouse that is the primary breadwinner will be required to pay alimony to the other.

Can anyone get alimony?

It's not an option in all divorces. Alimony is primarily secured in divorces where there is a major difference in earning potential between the two spouses. It is more common in middle class to wealthy households where one spouse brought in the bulk of the income, and the other spouse will have trouble maintaining their lifestyle after the divorce because they do not have the same earning power. It is often given to homemakers that otherwise won't have many earning prospects after divorce.

Are alimony payments permanent?

Not usually. In most cases alimony is only paid for a certain amount of time. The court will decide upon the limitations. It's common for alimony to be contingent on something, such as finishing a higher learning degree, finding employment, or raising the children to a certain age. The spouse paying alimony can also go back to court to request that alimony be changed or canceled, especially if their earning circumstances have changed.

How is alimony enforced?

This can vary by state. Unlike child support, there is not usually a government division that garnishes wages or enforces payment. Instead, it is up to the recipient to take the payer to court if they are not sending the alimony payments. The payer can then be found in contempt of court for not making the court ordered payments, which will then allow the recipient to legally force payments.

For more help in understanding or suing for alimony, speak with an alimony attorney in your area.