What You Need to Know About Spousal Support

Aug 8, 2012 by

When most people talk about spousal support after a divorce they are actually referring to is court-ordered payment from one spouse to his or her ex-spouse for living expenses. The legal term for this form of spousal maintenance is alimony and it is not the same thing as child support. Alimony is awarded at the discretion of the court and many factors can influence the structure of the award.

The rules for awarding alimony differ from state to state and the judge in the case has most of the authority as to whether alimony will be awarded or not. State laws will usually require the judge to consider more than just the couple’s prior standard of living during the marriage. The court will also consider each individual’s income and earning capabilities after divorce, the age and health of each individual, and the need for or ability to pay alimony.

The amount of alimony awarded will be what the court considers to be the amount that the recipient needs for maintenance of lifestyle. This maintenance will likely include considerations for, food, shelter, clothing, transportation and other household expenses. The court will not make awards to maintain lavish lifestyles, or to pay for vacations and recreation expenses as part of alimony. Although the rules vary, most judges have wide latitude in determination of the amount to be awarded. The spouse seeking the support will have the burden of convincing the judge that they need alimony.

Alimony is usually ordered to be paid periodically or in a series of monthly installments. Certain jurisdictions do allow judges to order a single lump sum alimony payment, but it is a relatively rare occurrence. Alimony payments will have tax implications for both parties because the awards are tax deductible for the payer and taxable income for the spouse on the receiving end. Large lump sum payments are usually avoided because they can push someone into a less-desirable tax bracket. However, if a spouse makes it clear that he or she will not or cannot make periodic payments, a lump sum payment may be ordered.

Determinations of how long alimony payments will continue will vary according to the state of jurisdiction. Generally, payments will end when the receiver remarries or begins living with a member of the opposite sex who can pay the bills. Other situations like when the spouse paying alimony dies, or if the couple’s separation agreement included a date for terminating payment, can also put a halt the payments. It is also possible to get alimony awards modified to increase, reduce, or terminate payments depending on the state of jurisdiction and the individual situation. Because the IRS has strict standards as to how spousal support is treated on tax returns, divorcing spouses should always research the rules in their state in order to determine the potential effect on their tax status before taking any permanent legal action.


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