Spousal Support: Frequently Asked Questions

Last Updated On: 2/11/2019 7:05:31 PM

How can I get spousal support (alimony)?

Spousal Support (also called Alimony) is available only in divorce cases or “separate maintenance”  cases.  If you were not married, there is no Spousal Support.  No matter how long you lived together, or how many children you may have had.  No marriage, no Spousal Support.

If you want Spousal Support, you must ask for it in the papers you file with the court.  

Suppose you are the person filing the divorce.  In your divorce petition, you can include a request for Spousal Support.   

Suppose your spouse filed the divorce first.  In your “answer” you can include a request for Spousal Support.  

Spousal Support is available only if the spouses are living “separate and apart from each other.”  If you are still living with your spouse, you can’t get Spousal Support.  You might get a divorce even while you’re living together.  But you won’t get Spousal Support.

What Are the Grounds For Getting Spousal Support, And How Much Will It Be?

There is no one answer for this question.  It is up to the judge to decide whether someone should get spousal support and what amount is appropriate.

The law identifies about twenty different “factors” for the judge to consider in making the Spousal Support decision.  Some of the most common factors are:

  • Length of the marriage.  The longer the marriage, the more likely that Spousal Support will be ordered.  The shorter the marriage, the less likely.
  • Income of each spouse.   The bigger the difference of income, the more likely that Spousal Support will be ordered.
  • Age, Education, and Future Ability to Earn Income.  If both spouses are relatively young, with equal education and job skills,  Spousal Support is less likely.  If a dependent spouse is older, has less education, or has few job skills, Spousal Support may be more likely.
  • Fault or misconduct of the parties that contributed to the breakdown of the marriage.

There is no mathematical formula for a judge to calculate alimony.  It is impossible to predict what a person could get. The judge considers many different factors.  One factor is how long you’ve been married.   If you were only married for a short period of time, you will likely not be awarded spousal support.  If you were married for a long period of time, spousal support is much more likely.  The judge will also consider whether one of the parties was at fault or committed misconduct which contributed to the deterioration of the marriage.

The judge will consider your financial situation.  The Judge will look at how much money you need to support yourself and how much income you currently have.  The judge will consider your spouse’s financial situation, and how much income your spouse would have available to pay spousal support.  The judge will also look at the standard of living you maintained during your marriage.  One of the most important things to show the judge is that you have a financial need for support and your spouse has the ability to pay.

Finally, the judge will consider your ability to work.  The judge will look at your earning capacity, including your educational qualifications, you work history and/or absence from the job market, your responsibilities in providing care for your children, as well as you and your spouse’s age and physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Are there different kinds of spousal support/alimony?

There are four different types of spousal support:

  1. Permanent Spousal Support. Permanent support or alimony can last until either the husband or wife dies.
  2. Temporary Spousal Support.  Temporary support or alimony can be for a limited time.  For example, it could stop when the person getting alimony gets married again.  It might be paid only while the divorce case is pending.  It might be paid only until the children are grown.
  3. Rehabilitative Spousal Support.  The judge can order one spouse to pay "rehabilitative alimony."  This means alimony  to help the other spouse go to school, or get job training, or get back on his or her feet.  This type of Spousal Support usually is paid only for a specific limited period of time.
  4. Spousal Support “in Gross.”  This can be done in two ways.
    • One is that the judge might order a one-time payment of  a single lump sum as the Spousal Support.  After that, no further payments are made.
    • Another option is for the judge to set a single total amount to be paid in Spousal Support (just like a one-time lump sum payment), but spread out a number of payments over a specific period of time.  

Can a Spousal Support Order be changed?

Yes, but only if Spousal Support was not wavied in the original divorce case. A waiver of spousal support is a permanent waiver.

Suppose Spousal Support was waived by both parties in the divorce case.  Neither side can come back later and ask for Spousal Support.  It won’t matter how much the circumstances have changed, or how unexpected they were.  If Spousal Support was waived by the parties in the first place, then both parties are forever prohibited from getting Spousal Support.

Otherwise, the Court may change a spousal support award, usually based on a substantial change in circumstances for one or both parties.  For example, if one party becomes employed, unemployed, or his/her income changes drastically, the Court may increase or decrease a spousal support award. The party asking for the change will need to prove what the change in circumstances is.  That party will also have to show why the change of circumstances should justify the change that is requested.   

This is general legal information. For guidance about your situation, talk to a lawyer.