Alimony is a legal financial arrangement between separated or divorced couples, whereby one partner provides regular payments to the other. It is only available to couples that have been legally married. Unmarried couples have palimony for relief.
Traditionally, married couples consisted of a working partner and a domestic partner. The working partner provided financially for the couple, while the domestic partner contributed in other ways, most notably by physically and emotionally supporting the working partner, keeping the home up, and in many cases, caring for children. When a marriage dissolved, the domestic partner was awarded alimony as a means to honor the promise of "lifelong" financial support in recognition of contributions made to the relationship.
Many things have changed since laws on this subject were written. It is now commonplace for both partners to have careers or a means of independent support. And while there is still significant statistical disparity between salaries paid to men versus women, overall women are more independent than they were in decades past.
Some might argue that the spirit behind alimony is too easily abused today. For example, marrying a wealthy partner can mean being set for life after a divorce. In cases like this, it may be argued, the judgments become a means to an end rather than a remedy.
In the US, although state laws differ, there are commonly three different types of alimony: lump sum, temporary, and permanent.
Lump sum alimony describes an arrangement whereby the court allows payments to be calculated and paid at once. Though this might sound appealing to both sides, due consideration should be given to related tax issues. The arrangement might not be favorable to both parties.
Temporary alimony, sometimes referred to as rehabilitative alimony, describes an arrangement whereby the receiving partner is reasonably expected to regain financial independence and only requires support for a period of time. In this case, the money might go towards furthering education or training skills.
Permanent alimony refers to payments made regularly for an indefinite period, or without a fixed end date. At some point, however, the payee normally petitions the court to change or even end this arrangement.
The type and amount of alimony awarded is based on many considerations and circumstances. Some considerations are: length of the marriage, ability to provide for oneself, disparity between incomes, contributions and sacrifices made for the sake of the marriage, and so on.
Death of either partner will terminate alimony. Other circumstances can also end or modify the payments. For the paying spouse, these include loss of job or a significant decrease in income. For the spouse receiving the money, remarriage terminates alimony, while a financial windfall or substantial pay hike can reduce or end it. Cohabitation of the receiving spouse with a new partner may or may not affect the payments, depending on laws and the specific circumstances of the case.
Alimony is a complicated area of law with large stakes. This article provides general information only, and is not legal advice. To inform and protect yourself, contact experienced legal counsel in your area.