Law Office of Lowell Steiger

Divorce and Alimony: What Is It and What Factors Affect It?

Author: Lowell Steiger

Published On: October 18, 2009

irst of all, what is Alimony?* Generally speaking, it is the money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce. Alimony is also called “spousal support” or “maintenance.”

Okay, there are many factors that affect the amount and duration of alimony. While this is not a complete list, it pretty much covers all the general bases. Keep in mind that every marriage is unique and it is the combination of the factors below which will influence the spousal support determination.

Length of the marriageGenerally alimony lasts for a term or period, that will be longer if the marriage lasted longer. A marriage of over 10 years is often a candidate for permanent alimony.
Time separated while still marriedIn some U.S. states, separation is a triggering event, recognized as the end of the term of the marriage. Other U.S. states (such as New Jersey) do not recognize separation or legal separation. In a state not recognizing separation, a 2-year marriage followed by an 8-year separation will generally be treated like a 10-year marriage.
Age of the parties at the time of the divorceGenerally more youthful spouses are considered to be more able to ‘get on’ with their lives, and therefore thought to require shorter periods of support.
Relative income of the partiesIn U.S. states that recognize a right of the spouses to live ‘according to the means to which they have become accustomed’, alimony attempts to adjust the incomes of the spouses so that they are able to approximate, as best possible, their prior lifestyle.
Future financial prospects of the partiesA spouse who is going to realize significant income in the future is likely to have to pay higher alimony than one who is not.
Health of the partiesPoor health goes towards need, and potentially an inability to support oneself. The courts do not want to leave one party indigent.
Fault in marital breakdownIn U.S. states where fault is recognized, fault can significantly affect alimony, increasing, reducing or even nullifying it. Many U.S. states are ‘no-fault’ states, where one does not have to show fault to get divorced. No-fault divorce spares the spouses the acrimony of the ‘fault’ processes, and closes the eyes of the court to any and all improper spousal behavior. California is a “no-fault” state
Gender of the recipientIn general, women are more likely to be granted alimony than men, due that (usually and historically) men make more money than women, and men are less likely to have gaps in employment due to childrearing.

*Since my law practice is based in California, I’m addressing California law. Your state’s laws may vary so please consult an attorney for clarification of your state’s law as it applies to you!

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