What Happens to Child Support & Alimony When a Divorcee Remarries?

By Beverly Bird

Portrait of mother and daughter dressed as ballerinas

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Approximately half of all Americans remarry within five years of divorce, according to U.S. Census Bureau in a 2006 report. Those with children carry child support issues with them into their new relationships. Courts do not always award alimony, especially in short-term marriages, but some spouses deal with this baggage entering into a new marriage as well. Generally, the spouse paying alimony or child support is obligated long-term, even if he remarries. The remarriage of the spouse receiving child support or alimony is often more of a factor in support modifications and terminations.

Remarriage of Parent Paying Child Support

Most state courts will not include a non-custodial parent’s new spouse’s income when calculating child support. The new spouse has no legal obligation to help support her partner’s children. However, some exceptions exist. For example, if a non-custodial parent is underemployed or unemployed in an effort to reduce his child support payments or to avoid making them altogether, some states will then look to his new spouse’s income to make sure his children are provided for. Courts won’t reduce a non-custodial parent’s child support obligation to accommodate an increase in his budget because he remarried. However, some states will adjust child support if he has subsequent children with his new partner. For example, New Jersey statutes call this an “other dependent deduction” and factor the expense of supporting a new child into existing child support obligations.

Remarriage of Parent Receiving Child Support

Most states will not consider additional income from a custodial parent’s new spouse when calculating child support. Courts determine child support based only on the respective incomes of the parents themselves. Realistically, more income is probably available to the children because stepparents will help pay for their expenses, but courts usually won’t reduce a non-custodial parent’s support order because of this. However, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed this accepted norm in 2000 with the Drysch decision. In this case, the court considered a remarried custodial parent’s additional household income when apportioning the children’s educational expenses between parents. It's possible that other states might begin to follow this trend.

Remarriage of Spouse Paying Alimony

Remarriage typically has no effect on one spouse’s obligation to pay alimony or spousal support to the other. Courts usually reserve alimony awards for lengthy marriages in which one spouse can’t adequately support herself without financial help, or on a temporary basis while the spouse seeks employment or additional education so she can eventually make ends meet. Her ex-spouse’s remarriage has no impact on her ability to support herself, so the alimony award is usually unaffected.

Remarriage of Spouse Receiving Alimony

In most states, alimony automatically terminates when the spouse on the receiving end remarries. It’s presumed that with her new partner’s help and his income entering her household, she will meet her budget without additional help from her ex. However, some jurisdictions require that the divorce decree or marital settlement agreement spell this out. Permanent or long-term alimony is terminated upon a spouse's remarriage more often than short-term or rehabilitative alimony because the latter is only designed to last for a few years anyway to allow her time to get back on her feet.