By Divorce.com staff
Updated Feb 15, 2023
Every marriage is different, and so is every divorce. If your marriage was structured in a way that involved one spouse working and the other spouse acting as the primary homemaker or caregiver for the children, your divorce settlement may involve alimony payments.
If your spouse is requesting alimony as part of your divorce settlement, here’s what you should know about alimony payments and how long they last.
What Is Alimony?
Alimony payments, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, are payments made from one spouse to another after a divorce. If one spouse didn’t work or had a very low earning capacity throughout the relationship, a divorce can have a negative impact on their standard of living.
They spent the duration of the marriage relying on their spouse’s income to fulfill their daily needs. Without that income, the spouse who earned the least can’t afford to survive.
Alimony payments are intended to help the recipient spouse become self-sufficient. Most types of alimony payments will have an end date. In some cases, the recipient spouse may be awarded permanent alimony.
Is Alimony Different From Child Support?
People are often ordered to pay both alimony and child support because the payments are used for different purposes. Child support is specifically intended to provide for a child’s needs and maintain their standard of living.
Spousal support is specifically intended for the recipient spouse. The recipient spouse isn’t obligated to spend any of the alimony they receive on their children.
Do All Divorces Involve Alimony?
If both spouses had a similar earning capacity, a family court won’t award spousal support payments to anyone. If one person requests alimony, it can be discussed with family law attorneys or in court proceedings about your divorce. Finally, if both spouses agree to a spousal support arrangement (or if the court determines that it’s necessary), an alimony order will go into effect.
How Are Alimony Payments Calculated?
Alimony payments are calculated with a lot of factors in mind. The courts will start by taking a practical view of the situation. They’ll consider how much financial help the recipient spouse actually needs and how much the opposing spouse can actually pay.
If they don’t believe that alimony payments can be made without putting the payee at or below the poverty line, they usually won’t award alimony.
Alimony is usually estimated with a somewhat complicated equation. The estimation looks at the total income of each spouse. They’ll take 30% of the paying spouse’s gross annual income and subtract 20% of the receiving spouse’s gross income to calculate alimony.
If the paying spouse makes $100,000 a year before taxes, the estimation is $30,000 a year. If the recipient's spouse makes $24,000 a year, their estimation is $4,800.
Subtracting $4,800 from $30,000 gives you $25,200 a year, which means the spouse with more income would pay the spouse with less income about $2,100 a month in alimony.
How Long Does Alimony Last?
There are several types of alimony, and each one will last a different amount of time. The recipient spouse will be awarded the form of alimony that’s most relevant to your situation.
The duration of an alimony award usually depends on the length of the marriage. If the duration of the marriage was long, alimony payments will continue for a greater length of time.
Temporary alimony is often referred to as “bridge the gap” alimony. These payments are designed to help the supported spouse bridge the gap between financial codependency and financial independence.
Sometimes, temporary alimony will only last throughout the divorce proceedings. It may end in the final divorce settlement if the spouse receives assets (like homes or cars) that they can sell.
Rehabilitative alimony is awarded to a recipient spouse if their marriage impacted their earning capacity. If one spouse had to leave their career to raise their children, they may need to start over again in their field to achieve a sufficient earning capacity.
Rehabilitative alimony can also be awarded to spouses who need to complete schooling or a training program before they can return to work. These payments end when the spouse has completed their objectives and is able to become self-sufficient by returning to the workforce.
Durational alimony is awarded when a couple divorces after a short-term marriage. If the marriage lasted less than ten years, the duration of alimony payments won’t last longer than ten years. These payments often only last for a percentage of the time you were married.
If a judge awards alimony for 60% of the duration of the marriage, someone who was married for 10 years will pay alimony for six years.
Permanent alimony is awarded after a long-term marriage. If you were married for 20 years and your spouse had no earning capacity throughout the entire marriage, you may be requi
Permanent alimony payments can also be used if one spouse cannot return to work due to a significant disability. If one spouse becomes a long-term caregiver for a significantly disabled child, they may also be granted permanent alimony for as long as they manage the care of that child.
Can Alimony Payments End Early?
Alimony payments can end early if both parties agree that they’re no longer necessary. You’ll each contact a family law attorney and ask the family court to formally end your alimony arrangement.
The duration of alimony can also be cut short if the recipient's spouse gets remarried. Remarriage introduces the new spouse’s income into the equation, eliminating the need for spousal support payments.
What Happens If I Don’t Pay Alimony?
Alimony is ordered by the court. If you fail to make your payments, you can face legal consequences and be held in civil contempt of court. If you cannot afford to make your alimony payments, contact the court as soon as you know you won’t be able to meet your obligation.
If the court is informed of your short-term inability to make spousal maintenance payments, you won’t face consequences. If your life circumstances have significantly changed and you won’t be able to make alimony payments for the foreseeable future, the court can work with you to change or terminate the agreement.
Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, and you’ll likely need the help of a lawyer to explain your case.
Find Help With Your Alimony
Alimony payments are support payments given from one spouse to another after a divorce is complete. There are multiple forms of alimony, including rehabilitative alimony, durational alimony, and permanent alimony. Depending on your spouse’s financial situation, one of these options may be a clear best fit.
If you file for an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse can decide how you’d like to arrange your own alimony payments. If you’re able to have a conversation with your spouse regarding a duration and payment amount you both feel comfortable with, you can set the terms yourself.