When a married couple gets a divorce, a family court judge may order one spouse to make monthly “alimony” or spousal support payments to the other, based either on a settlement agreement between the couple or a decision by the court itself.

The purpose of alimony is to limit any unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing a continuing income to a non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse. Each state has different alimony laws and a family law attorney can help you determine if you should seek alimony, or if you may be required to pay alimony.

How the Amount of Alimony is Determined

Unlike child support, which in most states is mandated according to very specific monetary guidelines, courts have broad discretion in determining whether to award alimony and, if so, how much and for how long. The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, on which many states’ spousal support statutes are based, recommends that courts consider the following factors in making decisions about alimony awards:

  • The age, physical condition, emotional state, and financial condition of the former spouses
  • The length of time the recipient would need for education or training to become self-sufficient
  • The couple’s standard of living during the marriage
  • The length of the marriage
  • The ability of the payer spouse to support the recipient and still support himself or herself

Although awards may be hard to estimate, whether the payer spouse will comply with a support order is even harder to gauge. Alimony enforcement is not like child support enforcement, which has the “teeth” of wage garnishment, liens, and other enforcement mechanisms. The recipient could, however, return to court in a contempt proceeding to force payment.

If you are considering divorce, it is in your best interest to consult with a family law attorney with experience with alimony legal services to determine your rights and obligations in the area of alimony and spousal support.

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