Seeking Spousal Support in a Divorce

Spousal support, or alimony, is one of the many settlements covered in a typical divorce proceeding. Generally speaking, when people think about divorce, they almost automatically think about who will get custody of the children, how much of the marital assets are going to be split, and in what proportion.

Most people also think in terms of long-term child support. However, in most divorce proceedings in the United States, spousal support can be granted. The courts do regularly award the former husband or the spouse who earns more money or has higher earning capacity to support the other former spouse until they can get back on their feet or until the other spouse remarries.

It all depends on the financial state of the spouse who is filing for support. How much alimony to grant to the non-earning spouse is usually a decision made by the judge. They often make this in the context of the non-wage-earning spouse’s employability as well as the paying spouse’s present earning ability.

When it comes to determining support, this is a much easier judgment call to make than who gets custody of the children.


What is Alimony for?

Alimony is meant to protect the non-earning spouse from economic loss resulting from the divorce. The keyword here is non-earning. Therefore, in the context of a man and a woman married for 30 years where the man develops a career, earns a decent income while the wife stays at home, and foregoes a job just to take care of her children, the court follows a rationale.

Should a divorce goes through, the woman will not be put in the sad situation of having no job or having to settle for meager pay in accordance to her skill level.

This situation is especially true if she has grown accustomed to a certain standard of living thanks to her marriage. The rationale behind this focuses on underlying fairness issues. This reasoning is because the non-wage-earning spouse may have sacrificed his or her career to look after the children.

Once the divorce pushes through, they will now find themselves at a disadvantage because they probably won’t be able to earn the kind of income needed to sustain the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to.

Alimony, however, has limits.


Limitations to Spousal support

First of all, alimony might not even be granted at all if the marriage does not have a long enough duration. Similarly, if both former spouses in a divorce earn roughly the same amount of money or even if there is a disparity, the spouse with lower earning capacity still earns a substantial sum.

With that said, every state has specific laws that set spousal maintenance. They use a particular set of criteria, so it’s quite easy for judges to determine whether alimony is due and how much.


How can you tell if you are illegible for spousal maintenance?

If you are filing for spousal support, you have to make the showing that you have absolutely no earning capability or if you do, it’s not sufficient. In the case of income disparity, you must be able to show the court that your spouse is earning so much more than you are.

You also have to bring documentation that describes the standard of living that you were accustomed to or familiar with when you were married. The court will then hire vocational evaluators to assess just how employable you are and what you are earning capacity is.


How is spousal support determined?

Assuming that you are illegible for spousal support, the amount of money you are entitled to will be calculated using the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act. Many states have adopted this act or tweaked it for their jurisprudence.

The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act recommends weighing the following factors in determining the amount of alimony. Can the paying spouse support himself as he pays for spousal support? In other words, if the other party is going to be helping you, is there enough left over for that person to support himself or herself?

How long were you married? The idea here is that the longer you were married, the more disadvantaged you are because the more you that have to catch up given that your skills are not up to date.

What was your standard of living as a married couple? If you were struggling, or you had a deficient standard of living, and you already have a job and can support yourself, you probably won’t get much spousal support.

spousal maintenance

Spousal Support and Living Standards

On the other hand, you may have a very high standard of living, but you are entirely unemployable. Alternatively, you are employable, but you cannot afford the standard of living that you were used to in your long marriage. Given this, you probably will get a higher amount of spousal support.

Finally, the court will look into how long it would take for you as the recipient of maintenance to find work and be able to support yourself or bring yourself up to your former standard of living.

Then, the court will look at both spouse’s financial, emotional, and physical condition as well as their ages.


Is alimony a long-term solution?

Please understand that spousal support is not meant to last forever. It’s intended to help the non-earning spouse get back on his or her feet and begin to earn money. The amount of money they need to earn until the support cuts off has something to do with the kind of lifestyle that they were accustomed to.

If no termination date has been set in the court order, then the alimony will continue until one of two things happens. First, the receiving spouse remarries. This condition will cut off alimony.

Second, if the payer dies, then the payments can be sourced as a lump sum from the life insurance of the payer or the payer’s estate.


What happens if a person refuses to pay spousal support?

The recipient can go to court and file a complaint to force the paying spouse to abide by the court order. Failure to follow-through will lead to contempt of court, which has criminal penalties. In such a situation, the services of a spousal support attorney may become necessary.

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Deborah Kelly

Deborah Kelly

As a proud single mom who has seen it all, I encourage others by sharing my experiences & curating content on divorce, adoption, child & spousal support. My passion also includes spending quality time with my kids and giving back to my community.


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