How Does Alimony Work? (2023 Guide) – Forbes Advisor


Laws governing alimony vary between states. Most share similar overarching rules about how individuals seek and the courts address alimony. Spousal support is usually part of a divorce case, but spouses who are still married but separated can also seek spousal support in most states.

What is the Process for Getting Alimony?

For alimony to be ordered, one or both spouses must request it from the court. Usually, this is indicated in the initial filing document for divorce, such as a petition for divorce or petition for dissolution form. Alimony can be agreed upon in a settlement or through mediation or the couple can take the issue to trial where the judge will decide.

Alimony is usually decided after issues of child custody, child support and property division have been settled or determined. Temporary alimony may also be granted early in divorce proceedings to provide interim support for the non-moneyed spouse until the final divorce ruling is issued.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

Alimony payments may be structured to last for a set amount of time or until a specific milestone is reached. It’s common for a judge to order alimony payments for one-third or half the length of time that the marriage lasted. In cases in which the recipient spouse is elderly or disabled, alimony could last for that spouse’s lifetime. Alimony could also be ordered as a one-time lump sum.

Some states set maximum durations for alimony based on factors like the length of the marriage, while others give judges more discretion. Absent any other agreements, alimony terminates with the remarriage of the recipient or the death of either party. Alimony can be modified by the court to address changes in circumstances long after a divorce has occurred, such as the recipient entering a financially supportive relationship with another person.

What Are the Different Types of Alimony?

Most states break down alimony into at least a few different types, each with its own intended purpose and duration. While states define these differently, there is significant overlap in how they are often categorized. Common among states is durational alimony, structured by a specific length of time for which support is deemed necessary. Also common is rehabilitative alimony, where payments are provided to allow the recipient to obtain education, training or work experience so they can become self-supporting.

Many states permit permanent alimony intended for spouses who are disabled, elderly or chronically ill. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many also delineate short-term or transitional forms of alimony that support only very limited needs during or immediately following a divorce.

Also available in some states is reimbursement alimony, which compensates for specific contributions a spouse made to their marriage (often, to the other spouse’s education or growth of a business or professional practice), potentially even through a one-time alimony payment.

Is Alimony Taxable?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 changed how alimony is treated by tax law. For divorces finalized in 2019 and after, alimony payments are no longer tax deductible for the paying party and no longer considered taxable income for the recipient. This also affects some divorces that precede 2019 but were modified in 2019 or later.

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