How much and how long will spousal support be paid?

Spousal maintenance, or spousal support, formerly called alimony, is a frequent topic of confusion for couples contemplating a divorce.  The amount of money that one spouse will pay to the other to cover expenses, while still having enough money left to cover their own, can be a source of significant litigation.  Unlike child support which uses specific mathematical formulas to assist in the determination of “how much” and “how long,” spousal support is not based upon a uniform calculation.  The amount and duration of spousal maintenance will vary with each case. 

Spousal maintenance is described as “rehabilitative.”  The intention is to financially support the ex-spouse until they can get back on their financial feet, to earn a living independently or otherwise become self-supporting.  The standards used to determine the amount of support and length of time it will be paid include a nonexclusive variety of factors, including the financial resources of the parties, the duration of the marriage, the standard of living established during the marriage, the respective needs and ability to pay, age and debt.  The support might include the time necessary to obtain educational opportunities or job training.   

Either spouse may request spousal maintenance in an amount and for a period of time as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct.  The support is not meant to unjustly enrich one party or penalize the other.  Spousal maintenance is not simply a means of providing bare necessities, but a flexible tool to address the post dissolution economic position of the parties.

Given the enormous latitude the court has in determining spousal maintenance, combined with the lack of any specific statutory guidance, it is difficult to have a feel for what maintenance is appropriate in given contexts. Certainly, the longer the marriage and greater the income disparity between the parties, the more maintenance is called for. With short marriages or where the parties have equivalent earning capacities, maintenance is rarely called for. Awards might also vary greatly from county to county.

Maintenance can be made non-modifiable only by agreement of the parties. Before agreeing to a clause making maintenance non-modifiable, each spouse should weigh the risk that circumstances would change for his or her benefit against the risk that circumstances would change to his or her detriment.

The divorce decree will provide for a specific termination date of spousal maintenance. Unless the divorce decree provides otherwise, spousal maintenance is terminated on the death of either party or the remarriage of the maintenance recipient.  The decree might further require that future maintenance payments be secured by property, life insurance, or a lien against the estate of the payor.  

Spousal maintenance is not a one-size-fits-all topic and every couple’s situation, circumstances and determining factors are unique. In order to understand your options, and whether you could owe or receive spousal maintenance, it’s important to speak with an experienced family law attorney. 

Legal Disclaimer:  The information contained herein is not intended to be legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and my office.  By providing this information, I am not acting as your lawyer.  You should always consult with a lawyer before taking any legal action.  Feel free to me at 206-489-5778 for a free telephone consultation.