Whether a former spouse is entitled to alimony, also known as spousal support, will depend on a number of factors. Whereas in the past, a former spouse may have been able to collect support indefinitely, this is no longer the case.
Purpose of Alimony
The idea behind awarding alimony is so that the former spouse can still have the same type of lifestyle they had before the marriage broke down. The spouse receiving the payments does have a duty to become self-supporting at some point, where feasible. In the case of a person who was married for many years and who was a homemaker, however, this may not be a realistic goal.
Who is Entitled to Alimony?
Either spouse can receive alimony, which means that men can collect alimony payments as well. This is becoming more commonplace as women continue to achieve greater success in the workplace and in running their own businesses.
Alimony Rules Vary By State
Whether a former spouse is entitled to alimony will depend on the state where the divorce action is being heard. The Court may take the following factors into account when determining eligibility:
- How long the marriage lasted
- Level of income for each spouse
- General health of each person
- Each spouse's behavior (having an affair may have financial consequences in some states)
- Whether one person was a full-time parent
- How the couple managed their finances and their assets while married
- Each person's ability to support themselves
- Which parent will have custody of the children
- Whether either person was financially irresponsible with marital assets
If alimony is awarded, it may be paid over time or given as a lump sum payment. The judge may set a firm date when the alimony payments are to cease, or order that payments will continue until the payor dies or the recipient co-habitates, remarries, or passes away.
Temporary support may be ordered while the couple is separated and the issue revisited during the divorce hearing. The person making alimony payments may also be required to pay a certain amount for the recipient's attorney's fees, but this amount would be at discretion of the judge in the case.
Collecting Alimony May Be Challenging
Even if a former spouse is deemed entitled to alimony payments, it doesn't necessarily mean they will be able to collect the full amount. According to a poll conducted by Divorce360.com and reported on by Fox News, only about one-quarter of all divorced people who should be receiving alimony payments and/or child support receive the full amount ordered. Almost 30 percent of people who were awarded alimony payments get a portion of the amount they should be receiving.
Receiving Spouses Giving Up
The poll also found that 14 percent of people who should have been receiving alimony payments have given up trying to collect the money owed to them; only six percent were still fighting for the alimony payments they are entitled to.
Enforcing an Order for Alimony
If the alimony payment or payments are not made as ordered by the Court, the spouse who is entitled to the payments can file a motion to have the payer found in contempt of court. The legal remedies the judge can order in this situation will depend on the state where the motion is being heard. They can include:
- Putting a lien against the payer's house
- Seizing personal property
- Garnishment of wages
- Seizing the payer's bank or investment account
Consult an Attorney About Alimony
If you are contemplating a divorce or are in the midst of one and have questions or concerns about alimony, do consult an attorney. Whether one spouse is entitled to alimony is decided on a case-by-case basis. Your lawyer can give you specific advice for your situation.