Alimony Law & Legal Definition


Alimony is an order of a court for the support of one spouse by the other spouse. State law, which varies by state, governs the award of alimony to a spouse. On application of either party for spousal support, the court may decree an increase or decrease only upon a showing of a substantial and material change of circumstances. Alimony may terminate upon the death of either spouse, the marriage of the spouse receiving alimony or, if the Court finds that alimony should terminate in order to avoid a harsh and inequitable result.The Court may award permanent or temporary alimony or both to either party, and in so doing may consider, but not be limited to, the following factors:

  • The actual need;
  • Ability to pay;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The age of the parties;
  • The physical health of the parties;
  • The emotional health of the parties;
  • The standard of living established in the marriage
  • and the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living;
  • The earning capacities of the parties;
  • The educational levels of the parties;
  • The vocational skills of the parties;
  • The employability of the parties;
  • The length of absence from the job market;
  • The custodial responsibilities for children of the party seeking alimony;
  • The time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment, and the availability of the training and employment;
  • The opportunity for future acquisitions of capital assets and income;
  • The history of the non-financial contributions to the marriage by each party including contributions to the care and education of the children and interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities;
  • The history of the financial contributions to the marriage by each party including contributions to the care and education of the children and interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities;
  • The equitable distribution of property ordered and any payouts on equitable distribution, directly or indirectly, out of current income, to the extent this consideration is reasonable, just and fair; and
  • Any other factors which the court may deem relevant.

Unlike child support, alimony is taxable to the recipient and deductible by the paying spouse according to Internal Revenue Service rules. As a result, some spouses may prefer paying family support in the form of alimony instead of child support because alimony is paid in pre-tax dollars and child support is paid in after-tax dollars. Judges have discretion when ordering the duration of alimony. Alimony might continue beyond the emancipation of the last child, unlike child support, which is typically determined according to a set of written guidelines and ends upon a child's emancipation.