By Divorce.com staff
Updated Feb 15, 2023
Divorce can be an expensive process, even after it’s been finalized. Depending on the terms of your divorce, you may need to make child support or spousal maintenance payments, also known as alimony. Here’s what you need to know about how alimony works in every state.
What Is Alimony?
Alimony — also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance payments — is sometimes part of a divorce settlement. Alimony payments are made by the primary income earner to their ex-spouse who did not make enough money to be self-sufficient for most of the duration of their marriage.
Alimony can be awarded in several different ways. People with a substantial amount of liquidated assets can sometimes pay alimony in one lump sum. In many cases, people will make durational alimony payments every month until the alimony award is satisfied. This could last anywhere from a few months to the rest of your life.
There are several different types of alimony. In most alimony cases, the supporting spouse will be providing the receiving spouse with rehabilitative alimony, which is temporary alimony designed to keep the recipient afloat financially until they find work.
Durational alimony is proportionate to the period of time you were married. You’ll pay a certain amount of alimony based on the length of your marriage, and the duration is typically about half the length of the marriage.
Permanent alimony is when the payee makes spousal support payments to their former spouse until that spouse remarries or one of them passes away. If the payor passes away, some states allow permanent alimony payments to be deducted from their estate.
What Is the Difference Between Alimony and Child Support?
Child support is financial support for raising children. If your custody order states that your children will live with your ex-spouse most of the time, child support payments are your contribution to their well-being and to maintaining their standard of living.
Alimony payments are to be used as financial support for your ex-spouse. If your ex-spouse doesn’t have much work experience or was counting on your financial support throughout your marriage, you’re expected to continue to support them.
It’s not uncommon for someone to receive both a child support order and a spousal support order. You’ll be expected to pay both, and the receiving spouse is free to use them as they see fit. They don’t need to document how they spend their child support versus how they spend their alimony.
Does My State Have Alimony?
All states have alimony. Every state in the United States has its own alimony laws, so they’re all a little different. Some states have more comprehensive alimony laws than others.
Every state allows for some form of alimony, like rehabilitative alimony. With rehabilitative alimony, the paying spouse will provide their ex-spouse with monthly payments for a predetermined period of time. These payments aren’t intended to be a long-term source of income.
They’re only used until the recipient spouse can find a sustainable source of income, like a career.
State laws for permanent alimony vary significantly. Most states prohibit permanent alimony. The only states that allow permanent alimony are Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia.
Texas has alimony, but they rarely use the court system to award alimony. They prefer alimony decided in private contracts, like prenuptial agreements or collaborative divorce settlements. You’ll only have to pay alimony in Texas if you agree to pay it during your divorce or if you have a pre-existing marital agreement that includes alimony.
Some states, like South Carolina, have specifications regarding alimony in fault or no-fault divorces. A fault divorce is where one spouse alleges that another spouse engaged in “marital misconduct,” which usually refers to abusive behavior or an affair. If someone engaged in these behaviors, they may not be entitled to receive alimony.
Do I Have To Pay Alimony?
You only have to pay alimony if the court orders you to do so or if you voluntarily agree as a part of a divorce settlement. Alimony is only considered during the proceedings if your ex-spouse requests it.
You can negotiate against it or agree to it if you’re creating your settlement for an uncontested divorce. If you’re going through divorce court, the judge will evaluate the situation and decide if your ex-spouse should receive alimony.
If you’re ordered to pay it, you have to make your payments. If you don’t, you can be held in civil contempt of court. The court can come after you if you fail to meet your obligations. They may garnish your income and deduct alimony payments before you even receive your paychecks.
If you can’t afford to make your alimony payment, contact the court. The court is willing to work with people who take a proactive approach. You’re required to keep them informed and pay the alimony you owe as soon as you’re reasonably able to.
What States Don’t Enforce Alimony?
Every state enforces alimony. Some people who do not want to pay their former spouse alimony think that moving to a different state will relieve them of their obligation. Do not move to another state to attempt to evade alimony. Your ex-spouse can report that you haven’t been making your payments, and your new local court will contact you.
They’ll take over the responsibility of enforcing the maintenance payments you were ordered to pay in your former state.
If you believe your alimony arrangement is unfair or unreasonable, the best thing to do is contact a family law attorney. An attorney can review the details of your situation and let you know if you have any reasonable way to challenge the court’s alimony award to your ex-spouse.
What If I Can’t Afford To Pay Alimony?
If your life circumstances have substantially changed, you may have more options. If a serious illness or disability will prevent you from making alimony payments for the foreseeable future (or ever again), you can petition the court as the paying spouse and ask to stop. The court will usually relieve you of your responsibility.
If you’re in a temporary hardship or “voluntarily underemployed,” the court won’t change your alimony arrangement. If the court feels that you have the potential to earn a salary substantial enough to continue making alimony payments, they’ll uphold the original payment amount and tell you to secure more or better employment.
Alimony payments are support payments given by one spouse to the other after a divorce. These payments can be either durational or permanent, depending on a couple’s financial situation after divorce. All states enforce alimony, which means you should not try to move from one state to another to avoid making alimony payments.
Alimony can also be discussed without a lawyer present as part of a divorce settlement, saving you time and money down the line. No matter how alimony is discussed, understanding how it works in your state may help you better negotiate terms with your partner.