If the Wife Files for Divorce, Can She Get Alimony?

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By Brette Sember, JD Updated Mar 29, 2024


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If a wife files for divorce, she may be able to request alimony as a part of her divorce. Here's what you need to know about the process.

Key Takeaways

  • Alimony eligibility is based on financial dynamics, focusing on dependency and income disparity, regardless of who files for divorce.
  • Alimony varies from one-time lump sums to temporary, rehabilitative, durational, or permanent payments, tailored to the recipient's needs.
  • Courts consider age, health, finances, marriage length, contributions to the marriage, and potential economic sacrifices.
  • Payments start during or after divorce proceedings, typically on a monthly basis.
  • Modifications are possible with significant changes in circumstances, though some orders may specify non-modifiability.

What Is Alimony?

Also known as maintenance or spousal support, alimony is a payment that one spouse makes to another during or after a divorce. Alimony is used to help one spouse sustain the standard of living they were accustomed to during the marriage, especially when there is a notable difference in the earnings of the two spouses.

Types of Alimony

Alimony can be categorized into five main types, each serving different purposes and durations.

Lump Sum Alimony

Lump sum alimony can be awarded by the court or decided by a couple in an uncontested divorce settlement or a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. In this case, one spouse awards the other spouse a large one-time cash payment.

Some people cash in an annuity or personal savings account to make this payment.

Temporary Alimony

Temporary alimony is paid while the divorce is ongoing and is meant to provide support for the wife until the case ends and a final alimony determination is made.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony is used when the recipient needs to obtain education, training, or work experience to become self-supporting. It's common when one spouse must attend or complete higher education or vocational training programs before they can enter or re-enter the workforce.

This type of alimony lasts for a set period of time.

Durational Alimony

Durational alimony payments are paid for a set period of time as decided and granted by the court. The length of time for this payment usually depends on how long the marriage lasted.

A short marriage would have a short payment schedule, while a longer marriage would have payments extending for longer. Often, this is equal to one-third or half the length of the marriage.

This type of alimony is granted to provide for a standard of living similar to what the couple experienced in their marriage.

Permanent Alimony

Permanent alimony is granted in cases of very long marriages or significant circumstances that prevent the recipient spouse from ever returning to work, such as disability or old age.

Who Is Entitled to Alimony?

Both men and women can be entitled to alimony payments, but only one person in the divorce will be ordered to make the payments. It all depends on the financial dynamic of the relationship.

Alimony is only paid by the primary breadwinner to the spouse, who made little to no money throughout the duration of the marriage.

If a judge finds that one spouse was financially dependent on the other for the majority of the marriage, the dependent spouse can request and receive alimony.

If the Wife Files for Divorce, Can She Get Alimony?

If the wife files for divorce, she can request alimony. And if her spouse files for divorce, she can request alimony. It doesn't matter which spouse files for the divorce or why they file for divorce.

There are common reasons a wife will be granted alimony:

  • She was financially dependent on her spouse for the majority of the marriage
  • She earns less than or has fewer financial resources than her spouse
  • She couldn't support herself with the money or assets she would obtain through the divorce settlement
  • Due to her limited work history or lack of qualifications, she wouldn't be able to earn enough to support herself, and she needs time to increase her education or work experience to become self-supporting
  • She is unable to work due to circumstances like disability, a language barrier, or the high costs of childcare she would need to pay to go to work. If childcare costs are similar to (or exceed) her earning potential, it may not be worthwhile for her to work
  • She is a stay-at-home parent, and it is in the child's best interest if she continues to be an at-home parent
  • The disparity in their incomes and financial situations is significant
  • She supported her spouse in obtaining a degree, professional license, or building a business or practice during the marriage

Factors Influencing Alimony Decisions

There are a variety of factors a court considers when making an alimony award, which can include:

  • The age and health of the spouses
  • The incomes, debts, and financial resources of both spouses, including retirement accounts and benefits
  • The earning capacity of both spouses
  • The ability of the payor spouse to make alimony payments
  • The length of the marriage
  • Whether one spouse was a homemaker or stay-at-home parent during the marriage or made other economic and non-economic contributions to the marriage
  • Who will have custody of any children, and where will the children primarily live
  • The standard of living the couple enjoyed during the marriage
  • Economic opportunities one spouse lost out on because of the marriage
  • The tax consequences of an alimony order
  • Whether the payee spouse can be self-supporting or needs to obtain education, training, and work experience to be self-supporting

When Do Alimony Payments Start?

Temporary alimony is paid while the case is pending. Regular alimony begins once the divorce or separation is final. The court order will indicate how often the payments are to be made, but they are usually ordered to be monthly.

Can Alimony Be Modified?

Alimony can be modified, but most states have limits on this, for example, not allowing a modification request for a specific period of years after the order is made and/or there has been a specific percentage change in either spouse's income. Alimony can usually only be modified if there is a significant change in circumstances since the order was made.

In some states, there can be a clause in the alimony order saying that it cannot be modified, which makes it impossible to modify it in the future. Modifying alimony, when possible, almost always requires the assistance of a lawyer.

Final Thoughts

Either spouse is entitled to alimony if they meet the requirements in their state. In general, alimony is payable by the spouse with more financial resources and income to the spouse with fewer financial resources and income.

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