Divorce can be overwhelming. Here is an absolute beginner’s breakdown of what spousal support is and exactly how it works.

Did you know that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that alimony is gender neutral back in 1979? That means that if you go through court proceedings as a woman and earn more than your spouse, you could end up paying spousal support for the next few years. Even if it comes as a shock to you as a woman, that is a possibility.

In most cases, though, it’s the man who ends up paying spousal support (alimony) as they are usually the higher breadwinners in the family since women tend to give up their careers to take care of children. Keep reading to learn more about this complicated legal term.

What Is Spousal Support?

Keep in mind first that spousal support is completely different from the division of assets. The division of assets happens separately and in addition to giving alimony to your spouse.

Once you decide that you are going to get divorced, the courts will decide, based on your economic situation, to award alimony to the disadvantaged party. Alimony’s purpose is to limit the unfairness of the economic effects of divorce. They do this by providing an income to the low-wage or non-income earner in the family.

For example, if your spouse earns $30,000 per year and you earn $100,000, then the courts will decide that after the divorce, you must pay a certain amount as alimony to your spouse to ensure they don’t suffer financial hardship. This alimony figure is even higher if your spouse gets custody of the children to help with those additional expenses.

How Does the Court Decide the Amount of Alimony Awarded?

The process of deciding how much alimony to pay is quite complicated. There’s no clearcut rule that says if you earn this much more than your spouse, then you pay this much in alimony. That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced divorce attorney by your side to help you through the process (no matter which side you are on).

The courts have broad discretion in awarding alimony, but they base their recommendations on certain guidelines. These are:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The ability of the payer spouse to support themselves even after paying alimony
  • How much time the recipient spouse will need to become self-sufficient
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The age of the spouses and their emotional, physical, and financial condition

Interestingly enough, child support has very strict guidelines on how much to pay in what circumstances. The mandates are set, and they are followed to a T.

How Long Do You Have to Pay Alimony?

If you are worried that you will have to pay alimony to your spouse for the rest of your life, do not fear. That’s not the case.

Alimony only gets paid until the recipient spouse has received training and has boosted their income enough to support themselves. If your spouse is capable of studying, training, and getting a new job that pays them well, then you have nothing to worry about. You can soon stop paying them alimony and be free.

But, if your spouse is unwell somehow, is disabled, or has certain mental or physical conditions that don’t allow him/her to get trained and improve their income, then you might be in it for the long haul.

Also, the world we live in nowadays is quite different from the past when women usually stayed at home and took care of the children, thus, being unable to pay for their expenses after a divorce. Women in the modern world are working outside the home and, in most cases, earn as much as their spouses.

Consider this as well – if your recipient spouse remarries, the alimony benefits will end. Not to be dire, but upon the death of either spouse, alimony payments end as well.

Remember that if you both lived an extremely high standard of living before your divorce, then your alimony payments will be that much higher after your divorce. This is because the courts will want to ensure that your spouse maintains their high standard of living (or close enough) after the divorce.

Does Alimony Go Up or Down?

Your alimony will never go up after it’s been set. That is, even if your income goes up after you get divorced or if you get an inheritance, it’s unlikely that your alimony will increase. That is, unlike child support which has cost-of-living increases built in, alimony doesn’t do the same.

Thus, your alimony payments will stay the same from year to year, making it easier for you to plan your finances.

But if you lose your job or your wage goes down for some reason, then you can petition the courts to get your alimony payments reduced. They might reduce your alimony payments after reviewing your tax returns (or they may not).

Can It Be Enforced?

If the payer spouse doesn’t pay the alimony payments, then the recipient spouse can go to the courts to force payment. But there’s no other way to enforce payment, unlike with child support payments where the wage can get garnished, and liens or even arrest are a possibility.

Again, to ensure that you are receiving equitable treatment by the courts, hire an experienced divorce attorney to stand by your side and fight your case. It can make a world of difference in the amount of alimony you end up paying or receiving.

Knowledge Is Power When It Comes to Legal Battles

Hopefully, this article gave you the full view of what is spousal support and its various nuances. The more you know about these legal terms, the more powerful you are when it comes to dealing with the courts.

Also, don’t forget that we are just a call away if you are still searching for a family lawyer who’s experienced in divorce, custody, adoption, and other related practice areas. Contact us today to feel supported in these legal battles.