Here are some frequently asked questions about alimony.
Q: Is there a difference between alimony, spousal support, and maintenance?
A: No. You may hear your attorney use these terms interchangeably because they are all different ways of describing the same legal concept. Although they can be used interchangeably, we will only use the term alimony for the sake of simplicity.
Q: What is rehabilitative alimony?
A: The most common purpose of alimony is to give one spouse, who otherwise could not support themselves, the time to become a self-supporting member of society or to provide support for a limited time.
Transitioning to supporting oneself may require re-learning how to be self-sufficient, obtaining an education, and entering (or re-entering) the job market.
This transition takes time, and the courts are well aware of this fact. That’s why you’ll often hear this type of alimony referred to as “rehabilitative.” One spouse may be required to pay a monetary sum for a time to help the other spouse get back on their feet after a divorce.
Q: What is long-term alimony?
A: The alternative to rehabilitative or short-term alimony is long-term or even “lifetime” alimony. Court-ordered lifetime alimony is rare these days, as fewer and fewer households have a dedicated “stay at home” parent or homemaker.
If one spouse has given up all meaningful opportunities for employment and education to be a stay-at-home spouse or parent and re-entering the workforce is not an option, courts may award lifetime alimony.
Q: How does the court determine the amount of alimony someone must pay and the duration?
A: Many states have adopted a form of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act which states:
“Alimony shall be in amounts and for periods of time the court deems just…after considering all relevant factors including:
- Financial Resources of Both Parties
- Ability of Party Seeking Alimony to Obtain Education/Meaningful Employment
- Standard of Living Established During the Marriage
- Duration of Marriage
- Age and Emotional Condition of Spouse Seeking Alimony
- Ability of Spouse Paying Alimony to Simultaneously Meet the Needs of Both Spouses
- Fault (in most states)”
Q: Can infidelity affect my right to alimony?
A: In some states, the court will consider infidelity when it is determining whether to grant alimony. In a minority of states, infidelity that causes the divorce is a complete bar to alimony. Stated differently, if you seek alimony and your infidelity caused the marriage to dissolve, you may be barred from receiving alimony. Of course, the best option is not to cheat on your spouse. More importantly, even if you have cheated on your spouse, you should never withhold this information from your attorney or the court, as lying about it may be viewed as worse than the adultery itself.
Q: Does moving in with my new partner affect my alimony award?
A: If you live with someone but refrain from marriage to keep getting alimony, the court will usually see through such a ruse.
Your ex can file to have your periodic alimony arrangement modified if you’re in a relationship that has all the trappings of marriage even without the two of you tying the knot.
If your and your new partner:
- Present yourselves in public as a couple
- Are in a continuous long-term relationship
- Share finances or living expenses
Then you are probably in what is called a “meretricious relationship,” and your alimony may be modified. Generally, intermittent sexual relations with a third party will not be grounds for modifying your alimony obligation.
Q: What is the difference between “periodic” alimony vs. “lump sum” alimony?
A: Just as it sounds, periodic alimony is paid on a schedule, whereas lump sum alimony is a one-time payment. The most significant difference between them is that “lump sum” alimony cannot later be modified.
Q: Can my child support obligation or our division of property agreement be rolled into my alimony payment?
A: No. Alimony is entirely separate from your child support obligation and the court-ordered division of property.
Q: Before marriage or divorce, can my spouse and I sign away our right to alimony in the event we get divorced?
A: Yes! You can sign a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement stating that neither of you will pay alimony if you get divorced.
A valid prenuptial agreement must be:
- made with no duress or coercion,
- made with full financial disclosure from both parties,
- entered into knowingly by both parties, and
- must not be “unconscionable.”
In many states, you may also enter into a contract after you are married, but before a divorce. This is commonly known as a postnuptial agreement. A postnuptial agreement must meet the same requirements as a prenuptial agreement, or it is not enforceable. Regardless of when you enter into a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, most jurisdictions will enforce the contract if it follows the rules.
The rules for prenuptial and postnuptial agreements vary from state to state, so be sure to do your homework about the laws in your state.