How Does Alimony Work?

By Gregory Hamel

What is Alimony?

Alimony is a system of spousal support that typically begins as the result of a divorce. Basically, while two people are married it is assumed that they share all of their income and support one another. When a divorce happens, oftentimes one of the married partners accounted for a large portion of the couple's income while the other made a smaller portion, or no income at all. Alimony dictates that monetary payments must be made by the higher income earner of the couple to the lower income earner, so that the lower income earner is able to subsist in a way similar to their standard of living that person did while the couple was married. Most commonly alimony payments are made from a man to a woman, since women often forgo their careers in order to take care of children.

Factors that determine alimony payments

The primary factor in determining alimony payments after a divorce is the earning potential of both the husband and wife, and their income level and standard of living before the divorce. If a homemaker is divorced, but her husband made a six-figure salary, she would be entitled to more alimony money than a homemaker with a husband who earned $40,000 a year. If both parties worked and made fairly similar amounts of money, alimony might not be called for. Other factors that affect alimony payments are: how long the couple had been married, ability of the parties to earn money after the divorce, and the cause of the divorce.

Alimony vs. Child Support

While alimony and child support are both common forms of monetary compensation which change hands between divorced couples, they differ in several fundamental ways. First and most obvious is that child support is only payable if the couple had children. Secondly, child support payments are not considered income to the parent taking care of the children, while alimony is, and alimony payments count as a tax deduction for the party that pays them, while child support does not. Additionally a failure to pay alimony can be somewhat difficult for the receiver of the payments to dispute and collect, while failing to pay child support usually results in swifter and stricter penalties.