By Divorce.com staff
Updated Feb 15, 2023
If you’ve been relying on your spouse financially, the idea of a divorce might make you nervous about your future. If your spouse was the primary breadwinner, that means they covered most of your living expenses. With their income gone, how will you afford to maintain your standard of living?
This is where alimony payments come into play. If you were married for a long time, you may be eligible to receive alimony payments. If you were only married for a short amount of time, you might be able to receive support through a prenuptial agreement.
Let’s learn about the difference today.
What Is Alimony?
Alimony payments are sometimes called spousal support payments or spousal maintenance payments. They’re intended to provide financial support to a lesser-earning spouse (or a spouse with no income) after a divorce. Alimony is used to help a divorced person meet their minimum basic needs and maintain their standard of living.
Who Can Receive Alimony?
You can’t receive alimony just because you’re getting a divorce. Unless you have a prenuptial agreement or a postnuptial agreement that states that your spouse has to make support payments to you in the event of a divorce, you’ll need to actively request alimony.
You can request alimony as a part of your divorce settlement, and your former spouse can refuse to give you alimony. If they don’t voluntarily agree, you will likely need to escalate the matter to family court. A judge will review your case and determine if you’re eligible to receive alimony payments.
Spousal support payments usually aren’t awarded to people with a significant earning capacity. If you’ve worked throughout your marriage and you make a decent salary, you won’t be granted alimony. If you didn’t work for a salary or if you primarily cared for the children or the household, you’ll have a lower earning capacity.
If a judge finds that you wouldn’t make enough money to support yourself if you went out and got a job tomorrow, you may be granted alimony payments during your divorce case. You and your former spouse will receive a court order that states the payment amount, the payment schedule, and the period of time the payments will last.
Can You Get Both Alimony and Child Support?
Alimony and child support have different intended uses, although many people choose to mingle their payments. They can both be used to pay for living expenses if your children live with you most of the time.
Unlike alimony, there are no minimum requirements for child support. Anyone who has a child under the age of 18 can request child support if they’ll be the child’s primary caregiver after the divorce process.
Child support is usually much easier to obtain than alimony. If you have a child and you’re petitioning for primary child custody or sole child custody, it’s nearly a guarantee that you’ll receive support payments for your child. These support payments can help you with childcare costs if childcare is necessary for you to be able to enter or re-enter the workforce.
How Long Do You Have To Be Married To Get Alimony?
Alimony always relates to the length of the marriage. If you were only married for a short period of time, you may not be eligible for spousal maintenance payments. Every state has different laws regarding alimony, and most won’t award alimony if the marriage lasted less than ten years.
There may be some exceptions. If you and your spouse created a prenuptial agreement or a postnuptial agreement that states that you’ll get alimony as a part of your divorce settlement, you’ll likely get alimony no matter the length of time you were married. You have to abide by that contract unless one of you challenges it in court or you both agree to revoke it.
How Much Spousal Support Can I Receive?
Spousal support payments are based on common sense calculations. The court is looking at the recipient's need for alimony and the payer’s ability to make the payments.
If the payer works full time at a minimum wage job and they don’t have any higher qualifications, their ability to pay would be much lower. If the recipient has assets they can sell or personal wealth, their need would be much lower. These are factors the court will consider.
If the recipient has a significant need and the payer has the ability to pay, the court will calculate a payment based on percentages of what the payer earns. The guidelines suggest using 30% of the payer’s gross annual income as a basis to calculate alimony. If the recipient doesn’t have an income, they can receive as much as 30% of the payer's income. If the recipient does have a job, 20% of their gross annual income will be deducted from 30% of the payer’s income to calculate their annual alimony obligation.
How Often Will I Receive Alimony Payments?
Alimony payments are made according to a schedule provided by the court. Weekly alimony payments are rare. You may receive biweekly or monthly alimony payments.
If your former spouse has a significant amount of money available, you can receive alimony as a lump sum at the end of your divorce process. Lump sum alimony is rare. The court generally doesn’t order people to pay alimony as a lump sum. Some people volunteer to pay alimony as a lump sum because they want to close that chapter of their life and move on.
How Long Do Alimony Payments Last?
State laws vary for the duration of alimony payments, and some types of alimony aren’t an option in certain states. You’ll most likely receive rehabilitative alimony if the court grants you alimony.
You can request temporary alimony if you’re in financial trouble during your divorce. The court may grant short-term alimony to keep you financially stable until the final alimony arrangement is decided.
Rehabilitative alimony is the most common type of alimony. This arrangement is short-term and intended to help the receiving spouse get back on their feet. If you need to finish school or find a decent job, rehabilitative alimony can help you with your living expenses until you’re able to become self-sufficient.
Durational alimony is alimony paid in proportion to the length of a marriage. The paying spouse can be ordered to make alimony payments for anywhere between 10% to 70% of the length of the marriage. If you were married for ten years, that means you’ll receive alimony for anywhere between one year and seven years.
Permanent alimony is only awarded in Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia. It’s usually awarded to spouses who have been married for longer than ten years when one spouse has low to no earning potential. It can also be awarded if the recipient spouse is a long-term caregiver for a significantly disabled child or if the recipient spouse is disabled themselves.
Permanent alimony payments end when one spouse passes away or if the recipient's spouse gets remarried. They can also end if the paying spouse loses their ability to work due to illness, injury, or disability. The paying spouse can petition the court to end the alimony if it’s impossible for them to make their payments.
A Final Word on Alimony
Alimony is payments used to help lesser-earning or jobless spouses following a divorce. While alimony can be a useful tool for spouses who want to maintain their standard of living or meeting basic needs — especially during a tumultuous time like when they’re navigating a divorce — alimony payments aren’t a guarantee.
If you have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, you’ll need to request alimony as a part of your settlement. Factors like the length of your marriage, a spouse’s assets, or a spouse’s job can determine the amount of alimony they’ll receive, the frequency of their payments, the duration of your payments, and more.
Ultimately, it will be difficult to be awarded alimony if you’ve been married for less than 10 years unless you have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement or your spouse agrees to the payments without bringing the issue to the court.
No matter how you decide to discuss your alimony payments, alimony can be a valuable tool to help ensure both spouses are properly cared for after their relationship ends.