How Are Alimony Payments Determined?

By Beverly Bird

Alimony is never a sure thing in a divorce. In most states, it comes down to the discretion of a judge. Congress has passed the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act to address alimony, but it includes suggestions for awarding it, not hard and fast laws. One common guideline is the length of a marriage. Judges most commonly award alimony after long-term marriages and almost never after marriages of just a few years’ duration.

Marital Standard of Living

The purpose of alimony is to prevent one spouse from living in poverty after divorce while the other lives an affluent -- or at least comfortable -- lifestyle. Most judges will begin alimony considerations with a review of the standard of living the spouses enjoyed while married. However, courts must usually cut that standard of living in half if only one spouse earned income. For example, if the marital lifestyle was supported on $100,000 a year, and all that income was contributed by one spouse, the income-earning spouse might be ordered to pay $50,000 alimony a year. Each spouse would have to live on $50,000. This may not be comparable to how they lived while married, but each spouse would enjoy a similar lifestyle post-divorce.

Two-Income Families

When one spouse’s income has not solely supported the family, the court will consider the income of the other spouse if she seeks alimony. If spouses enjoyed a $100,000-a-year lifestyle, with one earning $70,000 per year and the other earning $30,000 a year, a judge might order the higher earner to pay $20,000 a year in alimony to the other, so both spouses can live on $50,000 a year.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Property Distribution

Most state courts will distribute marital property before addressing issues of alimony. If the under-earning spouse receives an asset that produces income, such as an investment account or a rental property, those proceeds are usually added to her income. This works in reverse as well; if the higher-earning spouse receives an income-producing asset, it is included in his income. Retirement benefits are usually an exception to this rule, if they do not pay out at the time of the divorce.

Marital Misconduct

Some states will take marital misconduct into consideration when determining alimony. When a spouse alleges issues of abandonment or infidelity as divorce grounds and can prove those grounds, some courts will factor that in. For example, in North Carolina, a spouse who commits adultery is usually prohibited from receiving alimony, even if it means her income and lifestyle drop drastically post-divorce. Some states will order an adulterous or deserting spouse to pay alimony as a punitive measure so the wronged spouse does not have to suffer less income because of the other's actions.

Duration

Courts often award alimony only long enough to allow the under-earning spouse to get back on her feet financially. This is "rehabilitative" alimony. An exception is long-term marriages where the under-earning spouse has devoted her life to the home and is not likely to ever be able to support herself in the style which she enjoyed while married. Some states order alimony according to a percentage of the length of the marriage. For example, in California, after a 10-year marriage, a spouse might receive alimony for five years, or 50 percent of the duration.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
New York Divorce Laws on Property Distribution With the Length of Marriage
 

References

Related articles

Spousal Support Guidelines in Virginia

Virginia’s alimony statutes were relatively stagnant until 1998 when the legislature finally took steps to bring its laws current with the social climate. The 1998 legislation changed the term “alimony” to “spousal support,” and it allows judges a little more discretion when awarding it. Since then, some counties have continued to upgrade their spousal support guidelines, predominantly those in the northern part of the state.

Does a Spouse Receive Alimony When Divorced in Ohio?

Spouses can receive alimony during or after a divorce in Ohio, but it’s not an automatic right. Judges make alimony decisions on a case-by-case basis and after considering numerous factors. Section 3105.18 of the Ohio Revised Code lists these factors, but it doesn’t instruct a judge how to weigh them. Ultimately, it comes down to the opinion of the judge whether to award alimony and for how long.

How to Figure Alimony Payments in Iowa

After divorce, one spouse is sometimes left without financial resources to support herself, but alimony -- sometimes called spousal support -- can help. An Iowa court can award alimony to either spouse based on certain statutory factors. However, unlike child support, it is not awarded according to a formula or percentage of the other spouse’s income.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

How Is Alimony Calculated in Ohio?

Ohio's legislative code doesn't contain a mathematical equation for calculating alimony, also called spousal support. ...

Is it True a Husband Always Has to Pay Alimony When They Get Divorced?

When couples divorce, one or both spouses may ask the court to award alimony, also known as spousal support and ...

How Does Underreported Income Affect a Divorce?

In community property states, income is a marital asset. One spouse might earn it, but both have an equal right to it. ...

Wife's Rights for Alimony in a Divorce in California

Wives typically don't have an automatic right to alimony or spousal support, no matter where they live. In California, ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED