Spousal Support (Alimony) Basics

What is Spousal Support (Alimony)?

Spousal SupportSpousal support is a payment from one spouse to the other after the parties have separated or divorced. Spousal support may also be called spousal maintenance or alimony. Generally, spousal support is awarded in order to ensure that both spouses are able to maintain a quality of life similar to what they lived during the marriage.

When is Spousal Support Awarded?

Spousal support is not automatic. The court will decide whether spousal support should be awarded, for how long spousal support should be awarded, and how much spousal support should be awarded.

Even if spousal support payments are negotiated in a divorce settlement, the court will have to approve the settlement to ensure that it is equitable.

A state court will consider most of these variables when determining spousal support:

  • The age, physical health, emotional state, and financial position of both spouses.
  • The amount of education or training the receiving spouse would need to support himself/herself.
  • The quality of life or standard of living during the marriage.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • The financial ability to pay and financial need of each spouse.

Spousal support may be ordered in monthly payments, but may also be awarded as a larger one-time payment.

You should consult the laws of your state to determine the specific factors considered for an award of spousal support.

Is Spousal Support Permanent?

In most cases, spousal support will not be awarded on a permanent basis. Generally, spousal support is awarded only for as long as it will take the receiving spouse to meet his or her education, training, or other needs so that he/she is self-sufficient.

Spousal support also commonly ends if the receiving spouse remarries.

Spousal support may be ordered to be permanent if the receiving spouse has a medical condition that will prevent future employment and the paying spouse has an ability to pay permanent maintenance. Spousal support may also continue after remarriage of the receiving spouse or death of the paying spouse in certain circumstances. Spousal support that continues after the death of the paying spouse is generally secured by a life insurance policy.

You should consult the laws of your state to determine how long you may receive or pay spousal support, and what you may be required to include in your orders to clarify what effect marriage or death will have on any spousal support awarded.

Can the Amount of Spousal Support Be Adjusted?

Generally, the amount of spousal support awarded in a final judgment can be adjusted only if there has been a significant or substantial change of circumstances (such as unemployment, illness or injury, and remarriage). You should consult the laws or your state to determine whether you spousal support award may be adjusted and the standard you will be required to meet to change the award.

How Do I Enforce Payment of Spousal Support?

In most states, if a spouse fails to pay the spousal support amount that he or she was ordered to pay, the receiving spouse can bring a motion for contempt to ask the court to force that spouse to pay the support award. You should consult the laws of your state to determine how you can enforce your spousal support award.

Do I Have To Pay Taxes on My Spousal Support?

In most instances, spousal support is a tax deduction for the paying spouse and is taxable as income to the receiving spouse. When calculating the amount of spousal support that you will require, you should remember to take into account any income taxes you will pay on the support received. You should consult the laws of your state and the Internal Revenue Code to determine the tax consequences and benefits of a spousal support award.

Read more about what factors influence spousal support.


Please be advised that family law cases can be very complex and are different for everyone, based on unique circumstances. The information provided here should not be construed as legal advice in your case.

McKinley Irvin proudly serves Washington State and Oregon with offices in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Puyallup, Vancouver and Portland. Contact our family law offices to set up an appointment with a McKinley Irvin family attorney.

Categories: Divorce

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