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Alimony Rules: Guide to Spousal Support

When you're seeking a divorce, there are numerous factors you and your spouse must take into account to make sure everything is handled correctly. These factors include child support, child custody, property division, and alimony. 

Also referred to as spousal support, alimony – when awarded by a judge or otherwise dictated in a final settlement – is usually paid by the spouse who brings in more money. 

The purpose of alimony is to facilitate a smoother transition out of married life for the spouse with fewer resources. Relying solely on their own income, an alimony recipient would theoretically be unable to maintain the standard of living they had while married.

The topic of alimony can be daunting to the dependent spouse (payee) as well as the payor. In this article, we cover some basic rules about these payments. 

Alimony often depends on one spouse's need and the other spouse's ability to pay

The first and likely most important rule about alimony is that it hinges on one spouse's need and the other spouse's ability to pay. 

These two factors – need and ability to pay – are intertwined in the alimony ruling and must be taken into account to determine whether alimony is warranted and if so, how much the payments should be. The judge in charge of the case looks at how much each spouse is able to reasonably earn every month as well as the monthly expenses each spouse expects to have.

Marital standard of living

As mentioned previously, the marital standard of living plays a sizable role in the assignment of alimony as well. It’s a significant factor considered by the judge when calculating the amount of alimony a spouse must pay. 

In many cases, the judge will order an amount that will help the payee maintain a lifestyle somewhat close to the lifestyle they had previously established in the marriage. 

A judge’s discretion regarding spousal support

If you're attempting to calculate how much alimony you or your spouse will receive, keep in mind that each judge can order a different amount to be paid. There is no exact formula used for alimony. If one spouse has built up ample savings over the years as a result of smart investments, for example, some judges will increase spousal support because of these savings. Other judges, however, will choose not to take these savings into account.

Alimony sometimes correlates with the length of the marriage

There are times when the amount of alimony awarded correlates with the length of the marriage. If the marriage lasted for many years, the likelihood of one person receiving alimony rises. If the marriage was relatively short, however, the likelihood of one person receiving alimony falls.

To understand how the length of the marriage can affect alimony payments, keep in mind that a judge can order payments to be made on a short-term or long-term basis. If the marriage lasted for 10 years or less, alimony payments could last for up to half of the marriage duration. In other words, if you were married for eight years, you or your spouse could receive alimony for up to four years. 

However, the duration of alimony payments isn't as easily calculated when it comes to long-term marriages. If the marriage lasted for more than 10 years, there's no set limit to how long alimony could be paid. In these situations, it's common for the court to rule that the individual making alimony payments must eventually prove that these payments are no longer necessary. Thus, if you were married for 16 years, the alimony payments could last longer than eight years. 

Alimony usually ends when the payee remarries

No matter which state you live in, alimony payments usually end at some point. In most cases, these payments cease when the payee remarries unless a written agreement is in place or the court has ordered that alimony should continue for the foreseeable future. 

Notably, the decision as to whether alimony should continue remains with the judge unless it's written in your settlement agreement that these payments will cease when the recipient spouse remarries. (The marital status of the paying spouse doesn't usually mean anything in terms of how long alimony should be paid. Even if the paying spouse is also supporting additional children, alimony won't change.)

In other words, while the payee will likely stop receiving alimony payments when they remarry, this isn't always the case. If the divorce decree doesn't include any information about when alimony payments should end, state law controls how long alimony should be paid. Every state has its own requirements for modifying or terminating alimony.

If your ex-spouse has recently remarried and you've been paying alimony, check state laws and your divorce decree before you ask the court to stop alimony payments. In Florida, alimony payments always come to an end once the payee remarries. The paying spouse doesn't need to do anything in this situation. 

In comparison, Arizona will also end the paying spouse's obligation to make alimony payments once the payee remarries. However, the paying spouse is required to file a motion that terminates these payments with the court. If a motion isn't filed, the payments must still be made. 

Alimony rules vary by state

The rules surrounding alimony differ with each state. Spouses should be aware of this before filing for a divorce or drawing up a settlement agreement. 

For example, in Texas, spousal support is only awarded if the payor spouse has been officially convicted of abuse in the two years before the divorce was filed or if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years. In the event that the marriage lasted for 10 years or more, the spouse who is set to receive alimony payments must also meet one qualification out of the following: 

  • They cannot financially support their minimum needs.
  • They are unable to be employed due to a mental or physical disability.
  • They don’t have the work skills necessary to meet minimum financial needs.
  • They are the primary caretaker for a child who needs extra care due to a mental or physical disability.

In Colorado, things are different. Four types of alimony could potentially be paid in that state: 

  • Temporary (only while the divorce process is pending)
  • Reimbursement
  • Rehabilitative
  • Permanent

Further, alimony payments in Colorado are only considered appropriate for marriages that lasted three years or longer. A wide range of factors dictates how much alimony will be paid, from how property has been divided to the length of the marriage. 

How Hello Divorce can help

It’s confusing, but we can help you sort out your alimony issues. At Hello Divorce, our goal is to guide clients through the divorce process with as little stress as possible. If you have questions about alimony or the services available through Hello Divorce, schedule a free 15-minute intro call to learn more about what we can do for you.