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What is Alimony?

Updated on April 23, 2008

Understanding the Intricacies of Alimony

Alimony, maintenance or spousal support is defined as an obligation created by law that is based on the principle that both spousesare obligated absolutely to provide for each other during the marraige or civil union except during legal separation, except in rare cases where the obligation persists after separation. Upon commencement of dissolution proceedings either party may seek interim or pendente lite support during the lawsuit. Where a divorce or dissolution of marriage or civil union is approved, either party may require post-marital maintenance which is referred to as alimony or spousal support. It is not an absolute right though. It could be granted or not depending on circumstances and hard evidence. The amount and terms depend on the situation. If one party is receiving support during the divorce, the previous order is not automatically continued since the grounds for support during and after the marriage differ.

Some of the factors considered to arrive at the amount and duration of the support are the following:

  • duration of marriage
  • time separated while married
  • age during divorce
  • relative income
  • future financial possibilities
  • health
  • who’s at fault for marital breakdown

If there is no existing agreement between the partners on the terms of their divorce, the court will determine the alimony and other considerations based on the legal documents and testimonies presented by both. This can be changed anytime depending on the change of situation of either party upon delivery of proper notice to the other party and forwarding amendment application to the court. The court often does not want to change current agreements made unless the reasons cited are convincing.

Alimony is different from child support, which is another financial obligation often filed during divorce. Child support requires one parent to contribute to the support of his or her children through the child's other parent or guardian.

Alimony differs from child support in the United States when it comes to taxation. Alimony is treated as income for the spouse that receives it. It is deducted from the income of the paying spouse. Child support, on the other hand, does affect US taxes.

If a party fails to pay alimony, there are not generally any special legal options available to the party that is owed money. In many states, people who do not honor child support obligations may have licenses seized, or in some states are imprisoned.


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