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Alimony: Periodic Spousal Support

Alimony, also called “spousal support,” is common in many states. It is monetary support given to a dependent ex-spouse to maintain that ex-spouse’s standard of living, as it existed during the marriage. Alimony also is given, regardless of the receiving spouse’s sex, to compensate for faithful service provided as a homemaker, loss of employment opportunities and the foregone acquisition of skills for the sake of family, and sacrifices made during the marriage.

Spousal support is intended to prevent the dependent spouse from seeking public welfare and can help him or her lead a normal post-divorce life. Generally, the divorce decree defines periodic spousal support as to the amount, due date, and payment interval for the periodic payment. Spousal support and property division go in tandem, but spousal support usually is determined after determination of child support and division of the marital property. The terms of periodic spousal support are subject to amendment following changes in the parties’ circumstances and living conditions. Usually, the court that issues the original support order retains jurisdiction over the case for subsequent modifications to the support order.

After child support is determined, the court determines (or the parties agree upon) the amount of alimony needed to maintain the supported spouse’s standard of living within the supporting spouse’s ability to pay. For income tax purposes, alimony is tax deductible to the payer and taxable to the receiving spouse. Financial planning to devise the appropriate spousal support level is one viable option if the spouses desire to balance their available incomes. A formula based on financial planning must be supported and documented properly. If the parties find themselves with a shortfall, they may opt for an equal suffering arrangement. Communication concerning increases or decreases in the spouses’ incomes may help them with their tax returns and with periodic review of their arrangement.

The obligation to pay spousal support terminates on remarriage, upon both spouses’ mutual agreement, or at a time agreed upon previously. Before awarding periodic support, the courts may consider the following factors:

  • the needs of the parties;
  • the income and means of the parties, including the liquidity of such means;
  • the parties’ financial obligations and ability to earn;
  • the effect of child custody upon a spouse’s earning capacity;
  • the time necessary for the supported spouse to acquire appropriate education, training, or employment;
  • the health and age of the parties;
  • the duration of the marriage; and
  • tax consequences to either party.

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