This is the latest entry in BeenVerified’s legal term library designed to help you better understand public record information, criminal records and related terminology. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
Last Tuesday we looked at divorce and its many legal facets. This week we’ll start to take a deeper dive into some of its many consequences, starting with alimony.
Alimony is an allowance paid to a person by that person’s spouse or former spouse for maintenance, granted by a court upon a legal separation or a divorce or while action is pending, according to Dictionary.com. Other definitions and nuances according to state law may refer to alimony as “maintenance” or “spousal support.”
Alimony is a distinct legal consideration from child support and judgments related to the separation of property. Alimony is designed to help address a financial imbalance between spouses so that the fallout of a divorce is not felt disproportionately and unfairly by only one spouse, notes the Free Dictionary by Farlex.
According to NOLO.com, alimony is most often awarded in situations where one spouse earns significantly more than the other. Despite societal stereotypes, gender does not impact the judgment in and of itself. Some factors that may mitigate the award of alimony include very short marriages or marriages where it can be proven that both spouses earned close to the same amount of income.
NOLO.com also lists the periods that alimony can be ordered for, including a predetermined date set by the judge, until children no longer need full-time care at home or until the spouse who is being paid alimony remarries, among other potential situations. Like most aspects of divorce, alimony can be agreed upon in advance by the affected parties, but if the divorce is acrimonious, the court will step in to set the terms.
Like all legal issues related to divorce, laws for alimony can vary greatly by state. Requirements can be made upon both the payer and receiver of alimony payments. Spouses who receive such payments may be required to seek employment with a higher income in order to reduce the amount of “maintenance” required.
If a party ordered to pay alimony refuses to comply with the court’s orders, a series of escalating punishments could be doled out, from forms of wage garnishment all the way up to jail time. In some cases alimony judgments can be part of a divorce’s public record, but as with many states divorce laws, these records can be sealed for the protection of the parties' privacy, according to FindLaw.