What Is Alimony, and Who Is Entitled to It?

- Gary E. Williams

Alimony is a word that we often hear in a movie, on a TV program, and out on the street, but what does it really mean?

The Basics

When a married couple is divorced, the court might award “alimony” or spousal support to one of the spouses based either on a pre-existing agreement or by a decision of the court itself. The purpose of alimony is to reduce the economic effects of a divorce on one particular party by providing a continuing income to the non- or lower-wage-earning spouse.

The courts devised the system of alimony because there is often one spouse who foregoes a career in order to support their family. The divorce can leave them financially unable to support themselves. In the case of more wealthy couples, alimony is often awarded to help a former spouse to continue to enjoy the same lifestyle to which they had become accustomed during the marriage.

How Is Alimony Determined?

There are no specific monetary guidelines or rules that courts have to follow when determining the amount of alimony to award. Therefore, they have broad discretion on how much and for how long alimony should be paid. The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act recommends that courts consider the following factors when making alimony awards:

  • The age, physical condition, emotional state, and financial condition of the former spouses
  • The time needed for education or retraining to become self-sufficient
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The length of the marriage
  • The ability of the paying spouse to continue financial support

Most states follow the above recommendations but they may also have individual state laws that provide more detailed guidance.

Enforcing Alimony

Alimony is not enforced to the same level as child-support as it does not have the same enforcement mechanisms like wage garnishment or liens. If the paying spouse fails to provide the court-ordered alimony, the recipient can return to court under a contempt proceeding to force payment. Although alimony is not administered like child-support it is still a court order and is treated as such.

When Does Alimony Stop?

Alimony is ordered for only as long as is necessary for the recipient spouse to receive training and become self-supporting. The divorce decree may stipulate an end date, but if it does not the payments must continue until the court orders otherwise. Most alimony payments end if the recipient remarries.

Often people mistakenly think that if the paying spouse dies then the alimony is terminated, but this is not always the case.

In situations like the death of a high income earning spouse, where substantial payments were being made to a former spouse to ensure the maintenance of their lifestyle, courts may order continued support to be provided from the deceased’s estate. The same applies if the surviving former spouse is unlikely to obtain employment, due to age or health issues.

If you have substantial assets and income, are living in Florida, and considering a divorce, or have concerns about your alimony, we invite you to contact Gary E. Williams, a board certified expert in marital and family law in Pinellas County.

Our experience in family law where high assets are at stake allows us to provide professional and knowledgeable advice to divorcing couples. We invite you call us today at (727) 531-8737 today to discover how we can help.