What Is Alimony?

by Team eLocal
Hundred Dollars Background

Maybe you've heard of alimony from a popular movie or heard a friend mention it. If you’re going through a divorce, you may want to know more about how alimony works.

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What Is Alimony or Spousal Support?

Alimony is money paid from one spouse to the other upon separation or divorce. Spouses can agree to alimony, or a court may order it. Alimony is now sometimes called “maintenance” or “spousal support.”

Alimony is not ordered in every divorce but may be required when:

  • One spouse earns significantly more money than the other
  • The receiving spouse worked to support the higher earner in their career
  • One spouse was a homemaker or stay-at-home parent

Payments are made monthly, but they can occasionally be paid in a lump sum. Historically, spouses who had committed marital misconduct, such as adultery or abuse, were ordered to pay alimony. However, many states have eliminated the concept of marital fault, and spousal support is intended to create fair financial circumstances after a divorce.

Courts may order alimony to be paid for a certain amount of time or for the lifetime of the receiving spouse. Divorce laws — including rules about spousal support — can vary significantly between states, so it’s best to contact an attorney to learn about how they apply in your situation.

What's the Difference Between Alimony and Child Support?

Alimony payments are for the receiving spouse and may be ordered even if there are no children. The law expects this type of support to create financial equity for divorcing couples.

However, child support payments are intended to provide for children. A court may order child support even if the parents were never married. Child support is usually ordered until the child reaches adulthood. Courts calculate the amount of child support based on each parent's income and parenting time. Like alimony, child support laws vary between states.

The IRS considers alimony taxable income of the person receiving the payments, and the paying spouse can deduct alimony payments from their income. This rule doesn't apply to child support, and there is no tax deduction available for child support payments.

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