Alimony is a form of spousal support awarded to qualified parties.

Understanding Alimony: Types, Eligibility, and Calculation

In Divorce by Greensboro Attorney

The divorce process is often complex, complicated, and expensive. Aside from the attorney fees and court appearances, you must consider the financial support you must provide your ex-spouse if ordered by the court. Alimony is a form of spousal support awarded to qualified parties, and it’s one of the vital parts of divorce you must be aware of. 

What is Alimony?

Alimony is a payment awarded to your ex-spouse as part of a divorce settlement. It is a payment for the ‘maintenance’ needs of your spouse. The court determines the total sum of the alimony payment following the divorce proceedings. It is awarded to the spouse for a predetermined amount of time. When the court orders alimony payments, they determine the structure and requirements.

Different states have different laws governing alimony in a divorce. But there are overarching rules that are often shared. As a result, even those couples who are not divorced but are separated can file for alimony support. It’s essential to understand the ins and outs of this process so you can protect and fight for your rights. 

How is Alimony Calculated?

Since alimony is a legal obligation, the spouse who is required by law to make payments should honor this commitment. Alimony payments are issued when one spouse earns more than the other. The latter needs the payments, or spousal support, to support their living and other basic needs.

The court uses several factors to determine the amount of the alimony payments. However, both spouses can agree on the amount of alimony payments. If they cannot reach an agreement, the court will determine it for them.

The judge will use many factors to determine the alimony, such as the following:

  • The amount that each party reasonably needs to support their monthly needs.
  • The expenses that each party will incur during the separation.
  • The amount must be sufficient for each party to maintain the same lifestyle they had during the marriage.
  • The years of marriage.
  • The age and health condition of each spouse.
  • The earning capacity of each spouse.
  • The economic and non-economic impacts each spouse had on the marriage.
  • The economic opportunities wasted due to the marriage.

The judge uses these essential factors to determine the amount of alimony to be paid to the spouse. Based on the factors above, a request for alimony payments is often denied if the marriage is new or if both spouses have the same income level. Even if the judge has determined that a spouse deserves the alimony, the financial support shall only be awarded over a given period. 

The court uses several factors to determine the amount of the alimony payments.

Types of Alimony Payments

So, what happens if you are required to pay alimony to your spouse? Don’t fret because there are various types of alimony. Knowing which one applies to you is vital, so you know how much to pay for financial support and for how long.

  • Permanent – This alimony is paid monthly and will cease only after the death or re-marriage of the spouse with the lower income.
  • Temporary – This alimony is paid while the divorce process is pending, to help the lower-earning spouse pay their daily expenses and divorce fees. It will cease once the divorce is final. 
  • Rehabilitative – This alimony is paid to the lower-earning spouse for education or training that will enable them to increase their employment opportunities. The payments will cease if the spouse can support themselves financially.
  • Lump-Sum – Instead of a property settlement, the spouse who does not have a property or any items of value during the marriage is paid a lump sum by the higher-earning spouse. 
  • Reimbursement – This alimony is paid once to a lower-earning spouse to cover expenses, such as training or education. 

Do Judges Use a Formula to Calculate Alimony?

As mentioned earlier, a judge handling the divorce case will use a set of factors to determine and evaluate the amount of alimony a spouse receives during separation. However, it’s not similar to child support, which has a strict and predetermined formula. Instead, the judge uses their judgment and assessment of the situation to determine what is fairly given to the lower-income spouse. It’s called the judge’s discretion.

However, certain states like New York, Colorado, and Illinois use specific formulas for spousal maintenance. The typical formula is subtracting a percentage of the higher-earning spouse’s income from a portion of the lower-earning spouse’s income. But still, the judges can use their discretion if they believe the resulting amount is unfair. 

It is common to use formulas for calculating temporary alimony payments, though. 

An alimony is legally binding once the judge issues their decision in court.

How Do You Enforce Alimony?

Alimony is legally binding once the judge issues their decision in court. However, it’s difficult to enforce, so it’s best to work with a lawyer so you know how to implement the alimony award fully.

In the event of unpaid alimony, you can file for contempt of court to seek help from the court to enforce the alimony payment. But, again, make sure to provide evidence of non-compliance from your ex-spouse. 

If the court has proven non-payment of alimony support from your ex-spouse, the employer can send payment directly to the recipient from their income. The court can also issue a writ of execution that gives the recipient spouse the right to seize any property or assets from the non-paying spouse of equal value to their alimony payments.

Alimony After 20 Years of Marriage

In the case of long marriages, such as those who have been married for over 20 years, you can expect generous support from your spouse. There is no limit to the amount or for how long you can receive alimony payments. 

Therefore, alimony payments are considered to be more commonly awarded in long-term marriages, such as those over 20 years. Age is also another important factor when awarding alimony. Judges determine that the older a spouse is, the less they can become self-sufficient. 

Alimony Laws Vary by State

Alimony laws can be complex and confusing, especially if this is your first time going through this process. Make sure to hire a qualified attorney well-versed in your state’s separation, divorce, and alimony laws. They could provide valuable legal insight that will inform your decision and rights during the separation process from your spouse.