Alimony: Purpose, Amount, and Refusal of Payment

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The American divorce system includes a provision on alimony payments or spousal support. Courts may require one spouse to pay alimony to the other during a divorce proceeding. A divorce attorney can represent the payer or the recipient to ensure they are supported when negotiating for alimony.

Purpose of Alimony

Courts usually award alimony to a spouse if the other earns substantially more and if the couple has been married for several years. It provides continuing income to a lower-wage-earning spouse in order to limit the potentially unfair economic effects of a divorce. This provision exists to help a spouse that may need time to develop their job skills because they chose to forego their career for their family. It may also serve to help them continue with a standard of living they experienced during marriage.

Qualification, Amount, and Length of Alimony


Judges have broad discretion when it comes to awarding alimony. They normally consider several factors to determine qualification, amount, and length of alimony payments. These include length of marriage, ability of the payer to continue supporting the recipient, standard of living during marriage, and the physical, emotional, and financial conditions of the former spouses. In addition, a judge may consider the amount of time the recipient requires to become self-sufficient.

Alimony is considered a rehabilitative system. Ideally, it is required only until the recipient has received enough training or experience to become self-sufficient. The recipient spouse is expected to make significant changes in their life and work. They may be asked to find full-time employment in a higher paid field.

In some cases, courts may call an expert vocational evaluator to report on the potential job prospects of the recipient. They may show the spouse’s credentials to potential employees to reach an estimation of the income the spouse could have.

The divorce proceeding may include a specific termination date of spousal support. Otherwise, required alimony ends only with death, retirement, or a declaration of the court.

Payment Refusal

When courts award alimony, the spouse is legally obligated to make those payments to their former spouse. If they refuse or pay less than they should, the recipient can and should take immediate legal action. The court’s decision can be enforced with a contempt proceeding or an earnings assignment order. In more extreme situations, and in case a spouse absolutely refuses to pay alimony, courts may put them in jail for a temporary period of time.

Evidence of Alimony

It is important for both the payer and the recipient spouse to keep records of alimony. Each of them should make a list with information on the check number, address sent, and date of payment. The payer spouse should ask for payment receipts if alimony was provided in cash. Ideally, these records should not be thrown away at all. This way, both spouses are clear on spousal support payments and whether these are consistently provided.

For spouses married a long time, especially, alimony can play a significant role in adjusting for life after marriage.

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