How is Spousal Support Calculated?

Spousal support, commonly referred to as alimony, is a payment made by one spouse to the other.  Spousal support may arise by contract (prenuptial agreement) or may be awarded based on need.  In some states, it may also be awarded based on fault.  Spousal support may be temporary or permanent and may be paid in a lump sum or in periodic payments. 

Types of Spousal Support

Spousal support will only be awarded where the parties have filed for divorce or are living in a bona fide state of separation.  There are several types of spousal support: 1) rehabilitative, 2) reimbursement, 3) alimony in gross, and 4) permanent alimony.

  • Rehabilitative Alimony – Rehabilitative alimony is paid to a spouse for a short period of time to help while he or she is working to achieve financial independence.  In most states, in order to be awarded rehabilitative alimony, the payee spouse must present the court with a rehabilitation plan which shows how he or she plans to achieve financial independence and the time frame for achieving it.
  • Reimbursement Alimony – Reimbursement alimony is paid to a spouse who supported the other spouse while he or she was pursuing an advanced degree in anticipation of increased earning ability and the fruits of that increased earning ability.  Reimbursement alimony is often seen in cases where one spouse has supported the other spouse while he or she attended medical school or law school, for example. 
  • Alimony in Gross – Alimony in gross is usually a cash award made in lieu of a property settlement.  Alimony is gross comes into play most often where the couple has few liquid assets but may have a substantial amount of cash. Alimony in gross is always awarded in a lump sum.
  • Permanent Alimony – Permanent alimony is commonly awarded in instances where the couple has been married for a long time or where one spouse is especially dependent upon the other spouse for financial support.  An award of permanent alimony does not mean that the payor spouse must pay forever; upon the occurrence of a terminating event, such as the remarriage or death of the payee spouse or the death of the payor spouse, the obligation to pay permanent alimony ends. 

Factors to be Considered in Determining the Amount of Spousal Support

Although the law varies from state to state, there are several common factors which courts consider in determining the amount of an award of spousal support.  They include:

  • Duration of the marriage;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The age and physical and mental health of both spouses;
  • The financial resources of each spouse;
  • The amount of time needed by either spouse to acquire the education or training necessary to obtain employment;
  • The contributions of each spouse to the marriage, including homemaking, childcare, and assisting in the education and career building of the other spouse;
  • Which spouse will be granted child custody
  • The assets, liabilities, and earning capacity of each spouse; and
  • Any other relevant factors as determined by the court.

In most jurisdictions, the needs of the payee spouse and the ability of the payor spouse to pay are controlling factors in situations where permanent alimony is being sought.

Getting Legal Help

Divorce is a very stressful life event, especially when the parties are fighting over money.  Therefore, it's best to have an experienced divorce attorney on your side.  Your divorce attorney will analyze your case and advise you on the best course of action to ensure that you get the best possible outcome under the circumstances.

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