Alimony, or spousal support, often numbers among the concerns of couples about to divorce. Celebrity divorce stories on the news as well as misinformation from friends can add to the confusion and fuel anxieties.
Preparing for a divorce should involve getting the facts straight so you know what to expect. Unlike child support, spousal support does not have strict rules and formulas. While the law lists factors for judges to consider, the court has a lot of leeway in how it chooses to apply them in a specific case. Thus, calculations - and whether alimony is awarded at all - can depend a great deal on your particular situation as well as the point of view of the judge who hears your case.
Grounds for support
Generally, courts consider awarding support if one of the spouses will substantially lose out financially as a result of the divorce. However, the mere existence of a discrepancy may not be enough for an award; judges may take into account several additional factors.
While fault, on its own, will not guarantee a support award, many judges will take into account whether one spouse's bad conduct led to the end of the marriage. This can go both ways; a higher earner who is at fault may be more likely to have to pay, but a lower earner at fault who requests support also has a higher chance of getting that request denied.
What happens during the marriage
Length of marriage, the ages of the parties and their respective contributions to the marriage are some other factors that can influence support awards. A typical scenario likely to result in an award is when one spouse pursues a high-earning career while the other stays home to raise the children and care for the household.
Looking to the future
On a related note, judges may also look at the parties' respective earning potentials after the divorce. These may be affected by health, education and continuing responsibilities for the couple's minor or disabled children. The living standard established during the marriage is also relevant: support is not reserved just for a spouse who will otherwise be destitute.
Consulting a knowledgeable attorney can help you get a better picture of what to expect in your case. If you have a valid prenuptial agreement, it may contain provisions concerning support. Divorcing spouses may also choose to come to an agreement on this issue.