Question: Under what circumstances will the court award alimony or spousal support?
Answer: The obligation of spouses to support each other does not necessarily terminate when they divorce. If the divorce will leave one spouse with very little income and the other with enough to contribute to the low-income spouse’s support, the court will usually award alimony, at least temporarily.
Although historically spousal maintenance was typically awarded to homemaker wives, to be paid by breadwinning husbands, that is no longer always the case. Now, either spouse may be awarded alimony if the other has the more substantial income and the recipient spouse’s income is insufficient to support him or her at the level to which the spouses were accustomed during the marriage.
Spousal support is often awarded in cases in which one spouse has put his or her education or career on hold in order to raise the parties’ children while the other climbed the career ladder and achieved a higher income. In such cases, the alimony will often be temporary, providing income for the period of time that will enable the recipient spouse to become self-supporting. This temporary, or rehabilitative, spousal support enables the spouse receiving it to further his or her education, reestablish himself or herself in a former career, or complete childrearing responsibilities, after which time he or she can be self-sufficient.
The amount and duration of alimony depends on several factors, including:
- The length of the marriage;
- The age of each spouse;
- The health of each spouse;
- The ability of each spouse to be self-supporting, including a consideration of responsibilities to the parties’ minor children, if any;
- The income of the primary breadwinner; and
- Standard of living the parties enjoyed during the marriage.