By Divorce.com staff
Updated Dec 26, 2022
Most people assume that someone will be making child support payments following a divorce with children. Alimony payments are less common, but many spouses are eligible for alimony following a divorce.
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.
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 support themselves after the conclusion of a marriage. It’s usually only used in cases where one spouse was a homemaker (or otherwise unemployed) for the duration of the marriage.
Alimony payments are usually given to the eligible spouse as a monthly payment. In cases where the spouse ordered to pay has a significant amount of cash, they may be able to make one lump sum alimony payment.
Lump Sum Alimony
Lump sum alimony can be awarded by the court or decided by a couple in an uncontested divorce settlement. This is where one spouse awards the other spouse a large one-time cash payment of their own personal money.
Some people cash in an annuity or personal savings account to make this payment.
Temporary alimony usually lasts for a maximum of two years. It can be used during separation, during the divorce process, or to help a spouse transition into the workforce after marriage.
Rehabilitative alimony is used when the recipient intends to return to work. It’s common in situations where one spouse needs to attend or complete higher education or vocational training programs before they can enter the workforce. This type of alimony is more like a stipend, and it ends when the recipient graduates or completes training.
Durational alimony payments are paid for a set period of time as decided and granted by the court. They will never be paid longer than the duration of the marriage. If a couple was married for five years, the payee cannot pay alimony for more than five years. They’ll often only pay alimony on a percentage of that time.
Permanent alimony is almost never awarded. It’s only granted in cases of very long marriages or significant circumstances that prevent the recipient spouse from ever going back to work.
Does Every State Have Alimony?
Every state has alimony laws, but they may be enforced differently from state to state. Some states don’t utilize permanent alimony, but every state offers some type of durational alimony arrangement to eligible couples upon divorce.
The eligibility requirements are similar throughout the country. No matter what state the divorce takes place in, the person requesting alimony will have to prove that they need to receive it.
Is Alimony Separate From Child Support?
Alimony and child support are two completely different things. People can be ordered to pay both alimony and child support. Child support payments are specifically designated for the care of children, and alimony payments are designated to support a former spouse.
Although all the money is going to the same place, it’s intended to cover different expenses.
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. If she meets the legal criteria to be eligible for alimony payments, she may get them. It doesn’t matter who files for divorce or why they file for divorce. If they were financially dependent on the other spouse for years, they’re able to request alimony as a part of their divorce settlement.
The wife needs to be able to prove a few things to the court to demonstrate her eligibility. She can claim eligibility for the following reasons:
- She was financially dependent on her partner for the majority of the marriage
- She wouldn’t be able to support herself with the money or assets she will obtain through the divorce settlement
- She wouldn’t be able to earn enough to support herself due to her limited work history or lack of qualifications
- Bonus: 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.
- Bonus: She has acted as the primary caregiver for a child with special or exceptional needs, and it would be in the best interest of the child if she remained home
She needs to provide sufficient proof for the first three reasons in order to qualify for alimony. The bonus reasons will work to help her case, but they aren’t prerequisites for receiving alimony.
Alimony is usually difficult to get. If a wife wants alimony, she’ll likely need to hire an experienced attorney to argue her case for alimony. There’s a lot to prove, and the court needs to be sufficiently convinced that alimony payments are necessary.
How Is Alimony Calculated?
Alimony is calculated based on the payee’s gross annual income, which is their yearly income before taxes. Every state has a slightly different process for calculating alimony, which will be a flat percentage of income divided into 12 monthly installments.
Alimony can be anywhere from 20% to 40% of the payee’s gross annual income.
The court will consider the recipient’s need and the payee’s ability to pay. If the recipient has independent wealth, like a large savings account or other investments, they won’t get alimony. If the payee is living near the poverty line, the court may find that they don’t have the ability to pay.
When Do Alimony Payments Start?
Alimony payments don’t always start when a divorce is finalized. They can start during legal separation if one spouse files the paperwork requesting alimony. If the spouse doesn’t file alimony at the time of separation, they will receive it as soon as the court issues the order during the divorce process.
The court can issue an order for temporary alimony during the process of the divorce. Temporary alimony may or may not reflect the final outcome of the divorce. It’s possible that a spouse granted temporary alimony may not ultimately receive alimony as a part of the marital settlement.
If alimony isn’t requested during a separation or during the divorce process, the payee will be ordered to start making payments the moment the marital settlement is finalized in court.
How Long Does Alimony Last?
Some forms of alimony have an expiration date by design. Temporary alimony and rehabilitative alimony will vary in length depending on the circumstances. Durational alimony is paid for longer, and permanent alimony is paid forever.
The duration of alimony payments depends on the circumstances of the marriage and what happens after the couple gets divorced. Laws may vary slightly from state to state, and it’s best to check your local laws before you assume the maximum duration of alimony. It may be longer or shorter than you expect.
For 50% to 70% of the Duration of The Marriage
If the couple was married for less than 20 years, alimony will be granted for anywhere from 50% to 70% of the duration of your marriage. If they were married for ten years, alimony can last for five to seven years.
Alimony Is Indefinite After 20 Years of Marriage
If a couple was married for at least 20 years, alimony payments can last forever. There is no time limit. The payments will only end if one of them passes away or if the recipient of the alimony payments gets married. This is called permanent alimony.
Until the Recipient Gets Remarried
If the dependent wife gets remarried, she is considered the dependent of her new partner. The previous partner doesn’t have to pay alimony. If there were kids involved in the marriage and the spouse was previously paying child support, the child support order will remain.
Children are not the financial responsibility of the parent’s new partner.
Is There Any Way To Avoid Paying Alimony?
If the court has ordered someone to pay alimony, they have to pay it. There are consequences for failing to obey a court order, even if the payee doesn't feel that the order is fair or justified. If someone wants to get out of alimony payments, they need to find a legal way to reduce or stop making the payments.
If someone is financially unable to make alimony payments, they need to alert the court right away. If something like an unplanned emergency expense or an unexpected layoff from their job has strained their finances, the court may give them time to sort out their finances (or find a new job) before alimony payments continue.
It’s that person’s responsibility to notify the court when they’re back in good financial standing. If they don’t, the court can penalize them.
What Happens If You Don’t Pay Alimony?
If the court orders someone to pay alimony and they don’t make their payments, they’re held in civil contempt of court. The court can use liens to enforce the payment of alimony. Alimony payments can be deducted directly from the payee’s paycheck before they ever receive the money in their bank account.
Can Alimony Be Modified?
Most types of alimony cannot be modified or terminated unless the recipient gets remarried or passes away. The court may be temporarily willing to work with a payee if a sudden change in their life circumstances leaves them unable to make their alimony payments. Modifying alimony, when possible, almost always requires the assistance of a lawyer.