How Do Courts Decide Alimony in Divorce Cases?

Divorce is difficult for any person, and navigating the legal system can be even more complicated. One of the most common questions people have is how courts decide alimony in divorce cases. Most divorces end up involving spousal support agreements (also called “alimony”) where one spouse pays money or provides other forms of support to the other spouse after they split up their assets and debts. This is one of the most complicated parts of the divorce process.

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You might be asking yourself: what process do courts use to determine how much alimony one spouse should pay? The short answer is that there are many factors involved. 

The Standard of Living During the Marriage

A divorce attorney in Columbia, MD, notes that one of the factors courts consider when awarding alimony is the standard of living during the marriage. Both spouses need to be able to support themselves financially, but alimony may help with this transition without sacrificing too much of their standard of living. This is especially important when one spouse made significantly more money during the marriage. In cases where both spouses worked, courts may consider each person’s income and work experience in addition to the standard of living they enjoyed while married. 

How Property Is Being Divided 

Courts will also typically decide alimony based on how property is divided. While property division can be decided either before or after alimony, it’s usually determined during the proceeding at hand, so both parties know what amount of alimony to expect. It should also be noted that courts don’t always divide assets equally between spouses – this would typically happen only if the couple has an equal ability to pay for the division of assets.

Each Spouse’s Income, Assets, and Debts

When setting alimony amounts, other key factors that courts look at include each spouse’s income, assets, and debts. If one spouse has significantly more income than the other, that difference may justify a larger alimony payment. For example, if one spouse earns more than the other, it’s likely that the high-earning spouse will have to pay alimony. Assets owned by each spouse are also important. 

Generally, the court will consider all of a couple’s assets when it comes to alimony decisions, including money in their 401(k) accounts and other retirement plans as well as homes they own or have owned. Debts that each spouse owes, such as credit card bills and back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), will also be considered when courts determine if alimony is warranted.

The Length of the Marriage Before Divorce

If a divorce is filed, the length of marriage becomes an important factor. Longer marriages tend to be viewed as more equitable and deserving of alimony payments. However, there are no hard rules for determining how long a couple must have been married before it’s considered “long term” enough for you to expect alimony. In some states, the minimum length of time required for alimony is five years, but other states have no set requirement.

Each Spouse’s Age and Health

The age and health of each spouse can also play a role in alimony decisions. For example, if one spouse has an illness or disability that limits his ability to work and support himself, the court may award him spousal support as part of any divorce settlement. The age of the spouses may also be a factor. If one spouse is significantly older or more financially secure than the other, the court may award significant alimony payments to the spouse with less earning potential.

Ability to Maintain a Similar Lifestyle Without Support

Another factor courts consider when deciding alimony is the recipient spouse’s readiness to provide for his/her own needs. If you are able to maintain a lifestyle similar to what was established during the marriage without support from your ex-spouse, it may be less likely that you will receive spousal support. This means maintaining an income at the previous level and continuing to live in the marital home, and maintaining other material comforts.

Contributions Made to Each Other’s Well Being 

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Suppose one or both of the spouses supported each other by paying for training, education, or career advancement. In that case, it will be easier for the court to see that spouse as contributing more to their relationship. Contributions made to each other’s well-being can have a significant impact on alimony payments. So long as the contributions are not so significant that it is unfair to the other spouse, courts will consider them. However, the court will make its decision based on what is fair and equitable to both sides.

Get Help From a Divorce Attorney

If you and your spouse are filing for divorce or dealing with alimony, you should consider hiring a divorce attorney. An experienced lawyer will represent your interests in negotiations and offer advice when needed during the process. Although alimony can be awarded at any stage of the proceedings, waiting until after everything else is settled makes it easier for an attorney to make a case on your behalf. Because each state has its own laws regarding alimony, it’s important to find a lawyer with experience with the local court system.