Alimony FAQ

Created by FindLaw's team of attorney writers and editors.

Spousal support, or alimony, refers to the monthly payment (sometimes a lump sum) paid from one divorcing spouse to the other. The basic purpose for alimony is to alleviate the economic effects of a divorce, since much of the work required in a household is unpaid (creating an inbalance after divorce).

The following are frequently asked questions (and their answers) regarding spousal support.

Q: Where's the legal authority for determining alimony eligibility and amounts?

A: Alimony is determined at the state level, based on state spousal support laws and procedures, and typically decided as part of the larger divorce proceedings. While guidelines vary slightly, they generally consider whether one party has a financial need for support and whether the other spouse has the ability to pay.

Q: How do family courts determine eligibility for alimony?

A: States have a relatively wide latitude for awarding alimony, but many states' alimony laws are based on the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act. Under the Act, alimony is awarded only if the supported spouse (the one seeking support):

  • Lacks property to provide for reasonable needs; and
  • Is unable to support themselves through employment; or
  • Is a custodial parent unable to seek employment outside of the home.

Q: How much alimony can I expect to receive? How is this determined?

A: Spousal support is much less structured than child support guidelines, so courts have broad discretion not only for the amount of alimony but also the duration of the payments. It's usually paid monthly, but you also may seek a lump sum in some cases.

Generally, family courts consider the following factors when determining how much alimony to award a spouse:

  • The former spouses' age, physical and emotional condition, financial standing, and earning capacities;
  • Couple's standard of living during the marriage;
  • Length of the marriage;
  • Length of time needed to train for an opportunity at a self-sufficient income; and
  • Ability of the payer to support the recipient while still supporting themselves.

Q: Can alimony amounts be modified?

A: Absolutely. Most states (including California) define the parameters for when an alimony order may be revised, typically when one of the parties is able to prove a "change in circumstances," such as the paying party's job loss or the receiving party's higher paying job.

Q: What if my ex-spouse fails to pay the alimony they've been ordered to pay?

A: While alimony isn't always enforced as strictly as child support -- in which failure to pay can result in wage garnishment or loss of professional licensure -- failure to pay can result in some serious sanctions. A court can issue a finding of contempt and even sentence the non-payer to time in jail.

Q: How long will I receive alimony from my ex?

A: Spousal support is generally referred to as "rehabilitive," which means it's intended to bridge the gap until the spouse receiving the payment is able to improve their financial situation. Most awards end when the receiving spouse remarries, but the paying spouse's estate may still be obligated to make payments after the paying spouse dies.

Have Additional Questions About Alimony? An Attorney Can Help

Alimony can be a life-saver for divorcing spouses with limited financial means who are trying to transition to a new life. A legal professional will advocate on your behalf and help you get the spousal support you deserve. Find an experienced divorce attorney near you to learn more.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified divorce attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution