Though not as common as it used to be, alimony, or spousal support, is still available in all 50 states, providing temporary or permanent support to one of the parties.
Alimony is a legal obligation, pursuant to a court order, to pay some level of financial support to an ex-spouse. In some states, it is referred to as spousal support or spousal maintenance. Though parties can agree to some level of spousal support without the intervention of the court, it is customary for the court to issue a signed and enforceable order identifying the terms of the payment of alimony.
A party seeking alimony must generally put the request in a complaint or countercomplaint for divorce, asking the court to order payment of support. The court then reviews all relevant evidence and determines whether alimony is warranted, how much should be paid, and how often. The terms of support are then included in the divorce decree or a separate court order. A person who fails to comply with a valid alimony order may be held in contempt of court.
Alimony can take a number of different forms:
Though most court-ordered alimony is paid on a periodic basis—weekly, biweekly, or monthly—the parties can also agree to a lump-sum payment.
Though the specific rules vary from state to state, courts across the country generally have the discretion to order payment of support or maintenance based on the facts of the case. Typically, a court will not order payment of alimony unless one party requests it. The criteria the court uses vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but typically include:
The extent to which alimony is taxable to the recipient or deductible by the payer depends on when the divorce agreement was executed. For federal income tax purposes, payment of alimony pursuant to a divorce or separation agreement signed before January 1, 2019, must be recognized as income by the payee and may be deducted from income by the payer. Pursuant to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, for any divorce decree signed after December 31, 2018, the recipient of alimony no longer recognizes the payments as income, and the payer can no longer take a tax deduction for payments made.
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