How much spousal maintenance will I have to pay? Or how much will I receive?

Apr 30, 2009

This is a common question for people going through a divorce, however, there is no easy answer.  Spousal maintenance (also known as alimony) is the award of payments from one spouse for the support of the other.  Unlike child support, there are no statutory guidelines.

When initially determining spousal maintenance, the courts will look at one spouse’s need for support and the other party’s ability to provide support.  The courts will also consider the parties’ standard of living during the marriage, the length of marriage, and the parties’ age, health, and work experience.  A court will also consider the proposed division of property (sometimes a case will settle with a “spousal maintenance buy-out” – a spouse will receive a larger share of the property instead of spousal maintenance payments)  There are so many variables in spousal maintenance, it can be very hard to predict the ultimate outcome.  The longer the marriage, or the greater the disparity in incomes, the more likely spousal maintenance will be ordered.

The issue of spousal maintenance must be addressed in all divorces.  If there will be no spousal maintenance at the time of divorce, the parties can either waive or reserve spousal maintenance.  By waiving spousal maintenance, the parties give up the right to have the court consider spousal maintenance and never again can the parties come back and ask for it.  When reserving spousal maintenance, the parties are telling the court “there will be no spousal maintenance right, but in the future we can come back and ask the court to award it.” There may be some sort of condition in the reservation (“if X happens, party can ask for spousal maintenance.)

If spousal maintenance payments will be made at the time of divorce, the parties (or if there is a trial, the court) must decide whether spousal maintenance should be temporary or permanent.  Temporary spousal maintenance (also considered “rehabilitative” spousal maintenance) is spousal maintenance for a specified time frame.  Permanent spousal maintenance is not permanent in an “always and forever” sense, instead it is spousal maintenance for an indefinite period of time, as the parties may bring a motion for modification in the future.  If there is uncertainty on whether the court should order permanent or temporary spousal maintenance, the court will order permanent spousal maintenance.