Definition: Alimony is a legal agreement that requires one spouse to pay support money to the other spouse. The payments are usually ordered when one spouse earns more money than the other, and it may be awarded when there is a separation or in connection with a divorce. Essentially, these alimony payments provide financial support to the spouse who makes a lower income, or in some cases, no income at all. Depending on the circumstances of each divorce situation, state laws differ when it comes to how alimony is awarded and paid.

The amount and duration of payments can vary widely depending on the state’s laws regarding alimony and other issues. The payments are made directly to the spouse who has the primary claim on the undivided assets. Other times, the payments are made into an account controlled by the ex-spouse, who may or may not earn income from the job. Either way, the goal is to equalize incomes so that each party has an equal say in how assets are shared over their lives.

The terms and conditions of the payments are set by a court, with the agreement of both parties. If the non-bonding spouse refuses to make the appropriate payments, a lawyer can apply for an order requiring him/her to do so. The aim is to provide an income for the recipient while reducing the responsibility of both parties in maintaining the family structure.

While alimony is usually awarded based on the length of the relationship and the extent to which one spouse suffered financial hardship, it can be modified or eliminated at any time if the court finds that either spouse has acted in bad faith. In addition, the terms of alimony, including the amount and duration, can be changed by the court based on changes in circumstances such as income or employment.

Alimony can be terminated if it fulfills any of the cases below:

  • Re-marriage of the former spouse
  • Death
  • Retirement
  • Children no longer need support
  • The judge specifies the date

Every state has its own rules concerning alimony payments. And since many states consider alimony a month-by-month contract—meaning one month may be higher than another—it cannot be easy to understand what the actual payment amount will be month after month.