You may be the lower-earning spouse with an upcoming divorce who wants to know how much you will receive in alimony in order to live on. Alternately, you may be the higher earner who is concerned about how much you will have to pay in alimony each month. Either way, if you have an impending divorce, it’s good to know the types of factors that divorce courts consider when establishing alimony awards, so that you can have a general idea of how things may turn out.
The function of alimony
The first thing to know about alimony in a divorce is that it’s not automatic. Divorce judges only grant alimony if they deem it necessary in order for one spouse to be able to support themselves. If you both have close to equal earning capacity (meaning the ability to support yourself given your age, education, skillset and opportunity), the judge may decide that alimony is not necessary.
When alimony is on the table, it is typically because one spouse would need it in order to avoid a drastic decrease in lifestyle. Alimony is almost never permanent – rather, it exists to support the recipient while they build up their own earning capacity and become financially independent after the divorce. In general, the longer the marriage lasted, the longer an alimony award will last.
Factors that the court will consider
The first thing that courts look at is the earning capacity of each spouse. This means that they look at your education level, your physical capacity (including your age), and any other sources of income you may have (such as inheritances or insurance benefits).
They consider whether you were a stay-at-home spouse or in the workforce at the time of the divorce, because being a homemaker often comes at the cost of foregoing opportunities to develop marketable skills and obtain work experience.
Sometimes one spouse will put off their own educational opportunities to work in order to put the other spouse through higher education. Courts take this sacrifice into account when deciding on alimony awards, because justice often requires that the higher-educated spouse return the favor in these circumstances.
There is no surefire way to know exactly how a court will rule on the topic of alimony. But knowing the types of factors that they take into account can help you to prepare financially for what is to come.