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Answering Your Top 5 Questions About Alimony

While the oft-cited statistic that 50% of American marriages end in divorce is outdated, divorce is certainly not uncommon in the U.S.; approximately 10% of the country’s population is divorced. And some of the most contentious aspects of those divorces center on finances. People tend to have a vague understanding that assets are subject to distribution in a moderately equitable fashion, but most people have an incomplete or simply incorrect view of what kind of payments, if any, will continue to change hands after the divorce. That brings us to the important topic of alimony. Here are answers to five of the most frequently asked questions regarding this fraught topic:

    1. What Is Alimony, Exactly?
      Alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, is money that one spouse pays to another after a divorce in order to maintain a basic standard of living. It is normally paid when one spouse (the “supporting spouse”) made all or a larger share of the household’s income, often though not always because the other spouse (the “dependent spouse”) contributed to the household through child-rearing and so would not have the work experience to immediately get a job. That means that while alimony is often associated with child support, those payments do fall into separate categories.


    1. Are All Divorced Women Entitled to Alimony?
      Many women wrongly assume that they will be awarded alimony as part of their divorce. If you have a degree and have worked recently in your field, for example, it is unlikely you will receive substantial alimony, even if you have depended on your spouse for income for the past few years.


    1. Do Only Men Pay Alimony?
      The overwhelming majority of alimony arrangements involve men paying alimony to women, but that’s not always the case. If a household was primarily supported by a woman, then her spouse — male or female — could ask for alimony as part of the divorce proceedings.


    1. Who Decides How Much Alimony Is Paid?
      This depends on whether you and your spouse can agree. The vast majority of divorce cases (more than 95%) are actually settled out of court. Furthermore, more than two-thirds of couples who go through divorce mediation — in which you, your spouse, and your respective lawyers choose a neutral third party to help negotiate the terms of the divorce — say they’re satisfied with the outcome of the process. But if necessary, a judge will step in and decide how much alimony to include in your divorce order.


  1. How Do I Choose an Alimony Lawyer?
    If you do end up needing to make a case for alimony (or against alimony) in front of a judge, you’ll want a good alimony lawyer on your side. Specialized attorneys who focus their practices on issues of divorce, custody, and support payments are likely to be the best alimony lawyers.

What other questions do you have about alimony? Join the discussion in the comments.