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What is alimony and how is it determined?

In most marriages, there is one person who is responsible for supporting the marriage in a financial way. This just means that one person in the marriage often makes significantly more money than the other spouse. But what happens when the couple decides to get a divorce? Will one spouse have everything they need financially, while the other is left with nothing?

In short, the answer is no. Alimony is a form of spousal support that helps to balance financial inequities between a divorcing couple. This is based on the idea that each spouse has an equal share in the relationship, including the money that was once shared between them. Alimony can help the spouse that may have chosen to forego a career to support the family and now needs time to develop job skills to support themselves. Another purpose behind alimony may be to help one spouse to continue the standard of living they had during the marriage.

Unlike child support which has strict state guidelines as to how money is to be awarded, courts have much more discretion in how alimony is awarded. This includes the amount to be paid and how long it must be paid after the marriage ends. Alimony is based on a wide variety of factors. This fact coupled with a variety of possible factors that are unique to the couple make future alimony payments difficult to estimate.

In conclusion, those wondering if alimony payments will be a part of the divorce should look to see if there is an income disparity between yourself and your divorcing spouse. As a rule of thumb, if the gap is larger rather than smaller, there will likely be alimony awarded to the spouse who makes less money. However, each divorce is different. Assuming there is no prenuptial agreement, courts generally attempt to split property equally between the spouses.

Source:, "Spousal Support (Alimony) Basics," Accessed January 19, 2015

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