Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 4, 2020

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A court may order alimony payments either during a legal separation or during a divorce. Alimony or spousal support payments may be awarded to either a husband or a wife, and the court will generally make the decision as to whether to award payments based on a variety of different factors.

When are alimony and spousal support typically ordered?

Alimony is awarded in order to ensure that neither spouse suffers a dramatic loss in quality of life after a marriage ends or while a marriage is in the process of ending. In other words, if one party is making signifigant income and the other party no income at all, the court wants to make sure that the party without income is able to be provided for.

In the past, alimony was traditionally awarded to wives due to the fact that they often did not work outside of the home. Today, alimony can be awarded to either spouse based on need.

When is alimony appropriate during a divorce?

A court may award alimony as part of a legal separation agreement that occurs before a divorce is finalized. This is done to make sure the supported spouse has something to live on while the divorce is pending. As part of a final divorce decree, a court can also award either temporary or permanent alimony.

  • Temporary alimony is appropriate when one of the two parties requires support during a financial recovery period. For example, if one spouse has been staying home with children and needs time to take a class or become re-certified so he can re-enter a profession and begin making a living again, then temporary alimony may be awarded.
  • Permanent alimony, on the other hand, is appropriate when the disparity in income is likely to persist over the long term and/or one spouse may not be able to earn a living or maintain a remotely similar standard of living after the divorce. Permanent alimony, while permanent, usually does end if the person receiving it remarries.

To determine whether it will award either temporary or permanent alimony, the court will consider the earning power of each spouse, the length of the marriage and the contribution of each party to the marriage, among other factors.

Should I get help?

If you are ending your marriage, you need to consult with a lawyer to determine whether alimony is likely, and to ensure that your right to support is protected.