Avvo - Rate your Lawyer. Get Free Legal Advice. UA-228326614-1
top of page

What Is Alimony and How Does It Work?


No one gets married with the thought that they may get divorced down the line. If you find yourself at this unfortunate stage, 'what is alimony' may be at the forefront of your mind. Also known as 'spousal support', it is the amount that a spouse has to give another to support them post-split if the latter doesn't have a source of income or is dependent on them financially.

Alimony was derived from the term 'alimonia', which means nourishment. Most US states have adopted the term 'spousal maintenance' because it is gender neutral. Most attorneys use the term 'maintenance' to refer to it. But it is NOT:

  1. A way to equalize the financial state of a divorcing couple. It is meant to aid both of them in meeting their financial needs.

  2. A way to support ex-spouses. Most states have changed their divorce laws to be more gender-neutral. So some women have to pay their husbands for a while as well. Alimony is also available for same-sex couples this way.


How is Alimony Calculated?

Calculating alimony can get quite complex depending on the marital assets and income in a marriage. While you can use an online calculator to get a ballpark figure or average payout, the actual amount depends on the particulars of each divorce case. The amount is calculated as per legal arguments and legal regulations. In some cases, the court may order temporary alimony to support a dependent spouse till they can maintain a basic standard of living.

Types of Alimony

The type of alimony or spousal support differs from one state to the next. Some of the different types include the following:

Spousal Maintenance

Most people think of this term when they hear the word 'alimony.' You are eligible for it if you are financially dependent on your spouse. The longer you have been married, the larger the spousal maintenance since the difference in income is significant.

Unless the marriage involved abuse, to qualify, the couple must be married for at least 10 years for one to get maintenance. You also need to prove you require financial aid post-divorce to support yourself.

The court decides how much money you may get from your ex. That is not to say that you can remain dependent on the support forever. You have to demonstrate a willingness to support yourself financially in the future by studying or training for a job. This can be difficult to accept for homemakers who have zero work experience.

How a Judge Determines Spousal Maintenance

When a judge decides that spousal maintenance is necessary, they must determine the award. In most states, they look at the following factors to come up with an amount:

  1. The debts, income, and assets of both spouses.

  2. The standard of living for both spouses during the marriage and if they can maintain a similar lifestyle post-divorce.

  3. If a spouse was unemployed for a while as they took care of the family.

  4. How much each will get when marital assets are divided.

  5. The age and health of each spouse.

  6. The marriage length.

  7. The contributions the spouses made to one another's employment training and education.


Since each divorce case is different, the judge may also consider other factors to determine spousal maintenance. Not all states take these considerations into account. In some, like New York, the court has to use a formula to calculate the amount if they think that set guidelines are inappropriate as per the circumstances surrounding a divorce case.

For example, suppose your spouse's current income is higher than yours, and you cannot maintain a similar living standard you had during your marriage after divorce. In that case, you may get maintenance till you become completely independent.

In some cases, a judge will order a vocational evaluator who will study your education and your qualifications to determine your earning capabilities. Remember that if there was no discussion on alimony during the divorce proceedings, you cannot ask the judge to add it later. It will not be granted.

Contractual Alimony

Contractual alimony is not court-ordered. It is the result of an agreement between the divorcing parties via mediation. This can be a one-time payment or a short-term agreement for settlement. It can also be a lump sum that has to be paid monthly. With the right leverage, you can negotiate contractual alimony per the terms you and your ex agree to.

This type of law is enforceable in Texas. It cannot be modified in court. In most cases, the court also cannot place a wage withholding order to enforce payment of contractual alimony either. You can set whatever terms you think are necessary on the contract that your ex can agree to.

Enforcing an Alimony Order

Disgruntled exes can delay alimony payments or refuse to pay them. If that is the case, you can ask the court to intervene and enforce the original order. The same would be the case if your ex agreed to it during the divorce proceedings only to go back on their word later.

To do this, you must file a 'show cause' motion so the court can set a date for the hearing. During the hearing, the judge will determine why payments were stopped or delayed and what can be done to continue them.

Family courts across the nation have various tools to enforce alimony payments. A spouse that has no valid excuse for stopping or delaying payments can face hefty fines and even jail time in some cases.

Contact Hutson Law For A Consultation Today!

Whether you are going through a divorce, need advice on your next step, or wondering what is alimony, the family lawyers at Hutson Law can help. We have years of experience aiding families in establishing a solid future for themselves post-divorce, and we can also ease your stress.

Our attorneys are experienced in handling a wide range of divorce cases, so they have the knowledge and skills to create custom strategies for each client. Contact us for a consultation today!

Experience Excellence


bottom of page