How do courts determine the amount of alimony to be paid?

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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: Jul 14, 2021

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Rules regarding alimony after a divorce will vary by the standards and family law codes for each state. Many states have enacted statutes for alimony, otherwise known as spousal support, setting out a list of factors a court should review when awarding and setting the amount of alimony to be paid.

Alimony payments should not be confused with child support. Child support obligations are usually set at a percentage rate based on a parent’s annual income. There is not a specific formula for alimony; whether or not to award alimony is up to the discretion of the judge hearing your case. The factors a court will use to determine alimony to be paid depend on your state’s family law. Factors that courts generally consider include:

  • The financial resources of the spouse seeking alimony
  • The division of property
  • The division of debt
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The education and employment skills of the spouse seeking alimony
  • Misconduct or mismanagement of financial matters of the other spouse which resulted in a reduced value of the marital estate
  • The property brought into the marriage by either spouse
  • The contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or earning power of the other spouse
  • History of domestic violence
  • The health of either party

This is not an exhaustive list, but merely representative of the factors many courts will use. If you have a friend that was recently awarded a large monthly alimony payment, you are not guaranteed the same result. As long as a judge goes through the process of weighing all of the required factors, appellate courts will not reverse their determinations on setting alimony amounts on appeal.

To get a better idea of the range of alimony awards in your jurisdiction, you should consult with a divorce attorney or alimony attorney that regularly practices family law in your jurisdiction. They can advise you of the preferences, procedures, and opinions of the judges in your area. From there, you can begin developing factors to show what level of alimony is appropriate for your situation. 

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