Last Updated: June 28, 2022

Going through a divorce raises many questions regarding assets, children, and splitting property. One topic many couples encounter during the divorce process is spousal support or maintenance, commonly known as alimony. There are many circumstances in which this type support may or may not be appropriate and disagreements about conditions may arise. Maintenance / alimony rules are complex and confusing, and an experienced family law lawyer can help divorcing couples understand the guidelines and expectations for spousal support payments.

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What Is Alimony?

The first questions that needs to be answered, is what exactly is alimony and what is the purpose of it? Alimony, primarily called maintenance or spousal support (in legal settings) is nothing more than a payment of money from one spouse to another to provide financial support. The payments might be made during the divorce process and carry over after the divorce process is completed for some period of time. Some states use a rigid formula (referred to as “guideline maintenance” or “guideline support”) when deciding how much alimony should be paid and for how long. Other states decide alimony amounts and duration on a case-by-case basis.

Different Types of Alimony

Each state has their own laws and rules on the books, but for the most part, alimony can be one (or more) of a few different types: Rehabilitative Alimony; Temporary Alimony; or Permanent Alimony. Each has it’s own set of rules that applies, and each is for a different reason. Knowing the difference is important to determine if a persons divorce case might involve maintenance. The first step though, in virtually every state, is determining if alimony (spousal maintenance) is needed.

Is Alimony Needed?

Need doesn’t necessarily mean needed to survive, but that might be the case ins some situations where a spouse is unable to work or unable to support himself/herself post-divorce (or during the divorce). Alimony could e ordered to ensure that the lifestyle the each person had during the marriage continues for some length of time after the marriage ends. This might be for a variety of reasons, like one parent being a homemaker and raising the children while the other spouse works full-time. It could be because one spouse is in school and needs support until they get their degree. The possibilities are endless.

How Does a Divorce Lawyer Fight Alimony?

Typically, the first step that must take place when alimony is an issue is whether is it needed. This is where an experienced divorce attorney really has to do their work. Knowing that need might be either “self-sufficient” or “lifestyle related” makes a difference. In states where a formula is used to determine the amount of alimony, the different incomes of each spouse will be put into a single bucket to determine the amount each party gets for a set period of time. But not until need is first determined.

Divorce Attorneys Fight the Need for Alimony

A family law lawyer will attack the reasons one spouse is requesting alimony by going through his or her finances with a fine-tooth comb. When a spouse says they need alimony to pay their rent, but the divorce attorney shows the court that $500 is spent each month eating out or at bars, the court will take notice. A divorce attorney will also, at times, hire a private investigator to look into the whereabouts of the other spouse. For example, has she moved in with a new boyfriend, at least part time, and kept it secret from the court? This can e discovered in a variety of ways and used to show why alimony is not needed.

Alimony might also not be needed if the divorce lawyer can show that the spouse requesting maintenance is refusing to work or earn enough money. When the divorce happens, sometimes a spouse decides they won’t look for a job even though he or she has marketable skills. Showing the court that this person has a degree or a skillset and can earn more than enough money to survive and thrive proves that a need doesn’t exit, and the calculation for how much alimony would be paid never needs to take place. However, sometimes there is no way to fight alimony and win, so a divorce lawyer needs to be ready to attack the amount and duration of the maintenance award.

Reasons for Alimony and Fighting the Amount

When one spouse cannot meet their living expenses, either currently or in the future, maintenance may be awarded. In most cases, if one spouse can bridge the gap in another’s expenses, they are asked to make spousal support payments. These funds can be distributed in a number of ways, including lump sum payouts or monthly installments over a given period of time. Temporary alimony may only last as long as the recipient is not self-sufficient. If the recipient is unable to work due to disability or illness, payments may continue indefinitely.

The court has discretionary power, in some states, over how much alimony a spouse will receive based on several aspects. If the payer believes the amount is unfair, a divorce attorney can assist in petitioning the court for a lower payment. When a family law lawyer starts the process to limit the amount of alimony that needs to be paid, they will tackle the needs of the other spouse first. This is done by filing a Petition to Modify Maintenance. The divorce lawyer will show the court that maintenance isn’t needed at all, but if it is, the amount and duration should be very short and limited.

Premarital Agreements and Alimony

Some people enter into a premarital agreement (prenup) that describes specific things that would take place should a divorce eventually happen. One major item found in premarital agreements is whether alimony should be paid or not. Without a legally binding prenuptial agreement, which would outline any pre-existing alimony arrangement, the court system will determine the amount based on several factors in accordance with each states individual laws. The time required becoming self-sufficient and standard of living during marriage influences this decision. If the receiving spouse makes outrageous claims regarding living conditions or time required to be financially stable, the payer may pay an amount they deem to be excessive.

Next Steps

The topic of spousal support can make an otherwise good-natured divorce a painful situation. If spouses wish to contest alimony payments, an experienced family law attorney can help streamline the process. Retaining good counsel can help ensure that if alimony needs to be paid, the payments are reasonable. But a divorce lawyers first fight will be to eliminate alimony payments from the start. The vast majority of divorce attorneys offer free initial consultations, so there is no need to go at this alone.

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