Facts about alimony in the United States

When there is a high income inequality between divorcing partners, there exists an opportunity for the lesser-earning individual to request financial support from their former spouse. However, unlike child support, which is determined by factors such as the salary of the paying parent and the number of children, alimony is determined entirely at the discretion of the judge. For some, the looming threat of spousal support is a dark cloud of mystery: what is it? Will I have to pay it? What are the stipulations?

Alimony is only available within a dissolved union characterized by a significant income discrepancy. The website of Holmes, Diggs & Sadler cites that, in many cases, one spouse is the main “breadwinner” while the other is highly dependent on his or her earnings. The purpose of alimony is to support the less financially secure spouse in the aftermath of the divorce. More often than not, such spousal financial support is meant to be a temporary source of funds until the former spouse can either re-enter the workforce or adapt to their new income level. Because child support is separate from alimony, the cost of raising a child does not factor into the case for spousal support.

There are five big factors in the determination of alimony:

  • Health. If the supported spouse has certain health issues that prevent them from working full-time and supporting themselves, the court may decide in their favor.
  • Current income of both parties. Again, depending on the discrepancy between the earnings of each party, the lower earning spouse can request alimony.
  • Earning capacity. Alimony can also depend on the ability of a spouse to secure a job to support themselves. If they have few marketable skills within the current job market or do not speak the language adequately, they might receive temporary alimony while they acquire necessary skills.
  • Ability of supporting party. The ability of the supporting party to support their former spouse is also taken into account in determining the amount of alimony to be awarded or whether it will be awarded at all.
  • Length of the marriage. The court typically only awards alimony to ex-spouses whose union lasted for a substantial period of time (generally five years or more, but it depends on the judge).