What Is Alimony?

Alimony is temporary or permanent support paid by one spouse to another when a married couple divorces or legally separates. State and federal statutes provide guidelines to the court when determining whether to order spousal support and its amount and duration. Specific provisions may differ from state to state, but most jurisdictions base their requirements on the federal Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA). Therefore, many states have the same general requirements for courts to take into account, such as the ages of the parties, financial condition of each individual, the length of time an individual may need to become self-supporting, the length of the marriage and the standard of living during the marriage.

When Is Alimony Appropriate?

The purpose of alimony is to get a spouse back on his or her feet. This is most common in cases where one spouse is the bread winner and the other spouse works in the home or has otherwise supported the other spouse while he or she earned a professional degree or pursued career advancement. Spousal support is intended to help the spouse who would be at a financial disadvantage while getting job training or an education to enter the workforce and support himself or herself. The court determines how much time a party may need to become self-supporting. In some cases, an individual may be unable to enter the workforce due to age or mental, physical or health reasons. In these situations, the court may order permanent alimony. The amount and duration of alimony ordered by a court are determined by many statutory requirements and situational factors; therefore, each award of spousal support must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Are There Different Types Of Alimony?

When the court awards alimony, it will specify the amount and duration. Spousal support payments may differ according to each situation. The duration will often be definite, but it can also be indefinite if the situation allows. If alimony is indefinite, it will end when the recipient dies, but it does not always end when the paying ex-spouse dies. If the recipient spouse is not self-supporting, the alimony may continue to be paid out of the estate or life insurance of the deceased spouse.

Some alimony payments are made in a lump sum and others have a set payment schedule. There are also situations where an alimony trust may be the best option for paying spousal support. An alimony trust may be set up for the purpose of paying spousal support or an existing trust can be used to make alimony payments from the trust's proceeds. This may be a good option for an ex-spouse who cannot make payments on his or her own, possibly due to incapacity. A trust may also be a good option to ensure that payments are made in the future, regardless of a change in circumstances.

Can Alimony Be Terminated Or Modified?

Alimony or spousal support may also be terminated or modified in certain circumstances. To do so, one ex-spouse (or both) must make a motion to the court and specify the reason(s) for the modification/termination. The most common reason is a change in circumstances that has left the paying spouse unable to pay.

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