Spousal support, also known as "Alimony," is a legal obligation of payment from one spouse to the other in order to ensure that the receiving spouse is made "whole" coming out of the marriage. It most often occurs where one spouse has worked, and the other has not, for a considerable period of time (>5 years).
The purpose of alimony is to help the spouse who may not have worked during the marriage so he/she can become accustomed to unmarried life after the divorce. The ability of the "poorer"spouse to work, get a reasonable income, or perhaps, use the income he/she already has, will play a large factor in the determination of the amount of alimony. Bad acts on the part of each spouse will also play a part in the Court determining if alimony is appropriate. This is one area where adultery and abandonment are still important concepts. Payment of alimony may be made both pendent lite, that is, during the course of the divorce proceedings, and permanent, which occurs through a final order of the Court.
The courts will be reasonable and mindful of not sending a party into bankruptcy during this process if you are the benefactor. Alimony is generally disfavored unless there is a clear and compelling case for it, given that most parties can get employment and live normal lives without significant problem. Also, the parties can agree to avoid alimony in the settlement agreement, or where alimony is appropriate, specify fixed timeframes. As an aside, you cannot bankrupt out of spousal support obligations.
As a general rule, when alimony is appropriate, how long it must be paid is based on the duration of the marriage. If the marriage lasted:
|Married <=5 years||1 year alimony|
|Married 6 - years||2-3 years alimony|
|Married 11 -15 years||3-5 year alimony|
|Married 16 - 20 years||7 to 10 years alimony|
|Married >20 years||permanent alimony|
These numbers are based on experience in DC and MD court rulings in cases we have litigated.
Spousal support is designed to help the party who will be more financially harmed by a divorce. It is generally awarded to the spouse who was less financially independent. Spousal support may not be awarded in every case, and the courts will take into consideration the reason for a separation when deciding whether or not to order spousal support.
Yes, there are several different types of spousal support that may be awarded. These include:
- Periodic Payment For and Undefined Duration: This is a sum that an ex-spouse has to pay at regular interviews. The total amount of money to be paid is undetermined, but the courts can set a reason for payments to end (such as a remarriage).
- Periodic Payments For a Defined Duration: This involves payment at regular intervals, but as the name suggests, these payments have a clear end date.
- Lump Sum: This is a fixed amount of money, determined by the courts, that must be awarded by a specified date.
- Reservation: Short for a "reservation" of the right to seek spousal support in the future. Generally, the length of time granted for a reservation is half the duration of the marriage.
- Temporary Spousal Support: The court will award this when a divorce is pending.
No, there are instances when spousal support will not be awarded, such as when a spouse has committed adultery.
Spousal support can be altered if the spouse can show a change of circumstances. If the spousal support is part of an agreement, it can only be modified if the agreement allows for future modification.