Always know the difference between what you’re getting and what you deserve.(Anonymous)
Alimony is the punch line of many a joke by late-night comedians. But spousal maintenance is no laughing matter if you and your family are entitled to it, or if you’re the one digging deep to pay for it. We will cover some of the reasons why courts award maintenance.
What is Spousal Support?
Spousal maintenance (also referred to as support, alimony, or maintenance) is the term used for financial support paid to an ex-spouse after a divorce. The determination of who will receive maintenance depends on demonstrating that one of the spouses will be unable to meet his or her needs without financial assistance from the other spouse, who can afford to pay it.
The purpose of maintenance is to limit any inequitable, or unfair, economic fallout from a divorce by making sure a spouse who earns no wages, or lower wages, can count on continuing income. Sometimes, one spouse may have decided to stay at home to support the family rather than pursue an education or a career and, moving forward, will need time and support to get the training and job skills needed to continue the standard of living they had during the marriage.
Spousal maintenance is usually not affected by contentious issues such as dating, infidelity, or even abuse, because most states don’t take fault into account in this determination. Also, child support is considered, and it takes precedence over spousal support. Whether you do qualify for spousal support depends on:
- Whether you can demonstrate financial need
- Whether your spouse has the ability to pay maintenance
How is Alimony Calculated?
The legal system does not rely on strict percentage guidelines to determine maintenance, meaning there is no straightforward formula. Instead, many states provide guidelines that provide a general sense of the way the courts like to see things go. In general, courts have the freedom to review the paperwork and decide whether to award maintenance, and if so, the duration and amount. Because of this freedom, spousal maintenance is one of the most hotly contested issues in divorce. Maintenance is considered income, which means you will receive less in child support. Once the period of maintenance is complete, the child support can be revisited to adjust for the loss of income.
One thing that scared me about the possibility of divorce was seeing one of my good friends stuck in a terrible financial situation after she left her husband. They went through an extended separation, during which she received zero financial support for herself and their two children. When I was facing splitting up, I consulted with a lawyer for just one meeting, just to get the basic sense of my rights. I learned that my friend should have been paid spousal and child support during their separation; she didn’t know this, so she never asked for it! Needless to say, I did (and I got it). [Monique]
Spousal maintenance awards are usually granted if a spouse can show that he or she:
Lacks sufficient property to keep the standard of living established during the marriage, especially during a period of training or education
Cannot provide adequate self-support through appropriate employment
Is custodian of a child who needs care at home from the custodial parent
The court intends to address all relevant factors when determining the amount and duration of maintenance. A number of specific issues may be considered in determining spousal maintenance, including the following:
Length of the marriage
Earning capacity of both spouses
Standard of living during the marriage
Education level of each spouse at the time of the marriage
Education level at the divorce filing
Financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance
Amount of time needed for a spouse to acquire the education or skills needed to find appropriate employment
Contribution and economic sacrifices of a stay-at-home spouse including loss of seniority, retirement benefits, and other employment opportunities
Even though the system is intended to be fair, there can be significant inconsistency in spousal maintenance awards because most states do not address specifically how the award should be calculated.
Spousal maintenance is not permanent. In some states, spousal support lasts only so long as is necessary for the recipient to get the skills, education, and training needed to become self-supporting. In others, the length of maintenance is determined by the length of the marriage. Most maintenance ends if the recipient remarries. If the spouse paying the maintenance were to die, in some cases the recipient may still receive support from the paying spouse’s estate or life insurance proceeds. Also, if the divorce decree does not specify an end date, the maintenance payments must continue until the court orders otherwise.
Spousal maintenance is a complex part of the divorce process where emotions can run high. If you believe it’s likely your spouse will seek maintenance or that you will require it, begin to prepare by getting reliable advice from an experienced legal professional.