Can a court order alimony payments after divorce or separation?

During the process of dissolving your marriage, the court may order you to pay alimony payments after the divorce is final. Payments are not required during the separation period. The requirement to make alimony payments may be either temporary or permanent, depending on the circumstances. Once a divorce is final, however, a court will only alter or change an alimony decree if the circumstances of the parties change. They will not create a new alimony agreement after a divorce is final where no alimony agreement exists.

The Rules for Alimony

The rules for alimony or spousal support vary slightly depending upon the state in which the couple lives. However, as a general matter, alimony can be ordered to be paid by either spouse. This means a wife could pay alimony to her ex-husband or vice versa. Whether or not alimony will be ordered from one spouse to another depends on the ability of each spouse to provide himself with a standard of living similar to that enjoyed during the course of the marriage. In other words, if one spouse either doesn't work or makes significantly less money than the other, the wealthier spouse may have to provide maintenance/support money to the less-wealthy spouse.

An alimony order may be either temporary or permanent, which means that the alimony could have to be paid indefinitely after a divorce or on a limited basis.

  • Permanent alimony is ordered if it is believed by the court that the spouse receiving the payments is unlikely to ever be able to provide himself with close to the same income as the party ordered to make the payments. This is appropriate when there is a large gap in employability or education (especially if the less-employable party contributed to shouldering the educational expenses of the party making more money) or if one party cannot work because of health or other reasons.
  • Temporary alimony is ordered if the court thinks that the party receiving payments will be able to improve his income, if only given a little time to do so.

A court will also look at a number of other factors aside from the respective incomes of the parties, including the length of the marriage and each party’s contribution to the marriage.

Getting Help

If you are involved in any divorce, especially one where alimony issues come into play, you will want to have a lawyer on your side to protect your rights.