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Are You Entitled to an Alimony Settlement?

In the last couple of decades, attitudes toward alimony have changed. Traditionally, a man paid alimony to his former wife on a monthly basis until she either died or remarried. These days, courts are less likely to grant permanent alimony. Instead, your alimony settlement is more likely to be a lump-sum payment or a temporary payment intended to end at a certain point in the future.

Once you and your spouse have decided to divorce, you'll have to negotiate a divorce settlement. This includes deciding how you'll split your community property, how custody issues will be handled if you have children and whether one spouse is entitled to an alimony settlement. You can negotiate these details one-on-one or with the assistance of your divorce attorneys. If you're unable to reach an agreement on any of these issues--including the issue of alimony--then a judge will make the decisions for you.

Alimony Settlement Considerations

Alimony laws vary from state to state. But a judge will typically consider several factors when deciding whether either spouse is entitled to alimony. Those factors include:

  • The length of your marriage: The longer you have been married, the more spousal support you're likely to receive.
  • Each person's current salary and future earnings potential: Alimony is intended, in part, to help you maintain the standard of living you enjoyed while married. If you earn significantly less than your spouse, you would be likely to receive an alimony settlement.
  • Each person's other income from sources such as interest, dividends and trusts: If either you or your spouse has substantial income from non-employment sources, the judge will consider this when evaluating whether either of you has a right to alimony.
  • If, during the marriage, one spouse helped contribute to the education and career advancement of the other spouse: Courts understand that the professional success of one spouse can be due, in part, to the efforts of the other spouse and will take this into account when calculating alimony.
  • If, during the marriage, one spouse was a homemaker: If one spouse maintained the home during the marriage and earned no outside income, the court realizes that it will take some time for the stay-at-home spouse to become employed and start earning enough money to support himself or herself.
  • If the couple has children, whether the parent with custody will have limited future earnings because of parental responsibilities: Raising children is a time-intensive responsibility, and courts recognize that this may limit the earning potential of the parent who has primary responsibility for the children.
  • The age of each spouse and whether either spouse has any physical, mental or emotional issues: If one spouse's future earning potential is limited due to age or health-related issues, this will be taken into account when calculating alimony.
  • Whether either spouse was at fault in the divorce: Many states have eliminated fault, such as adultery, from alimony calculations, but it may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • Whether there are other economic circumstances that seriously affect either spouse

If you're unable to negotiate a settlement with your spouse, your divorce attorney can advise you on your alimony rights and how much a judge would potentially award in an alimony settlement. You should also consider talking to an tax advisor to understand the potential tax ramifications of alimony.