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What is the difference between alimony and spousal support?

UPDATED: February 4, 2020

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The terms “alimony” and “spousal support” are often used interchangeably to describe payments made by one spouse to another after a divorce. The terms are identical in meaning.

What is the difference between 'alimony' and 'spousal support'?

“Alimony” is the older of the two terms, and has been used in a legal sense for quite some time, but it has since been phased out with the modern term “spousal support.” This was largely for purposes of clarity, and largely to eliminate confusion between jurisdictions using different terms. Another common modern term that is used to replace “alimony” is “spousal maintenance.” For precision and clarity, “spousal support” is the preferred term in most legal environments.

Spousal support payments can be made from wife to husband as well as husband to wife. Legal regulations of spousal support state simply that the spouse who is financially stronger makes support payments to the other in accordance with the amounts and time frames set by the court during the divorce proceedings, The term “spousal support,” with its use of the gender-neutral word “spouse,” may help to clarify the gender-neutrality of the payments.

Is there are difference between alimony and child support?

While there is no real difference between alimony and spousal support, there is a difference between alimony and child support. Child support is generally considered a fundamental right for children. In most cases, in most states, it can't be waived by a parent through the signing of a prenuptial or a postnuptial agreement. Spousal support generally takes precedence over alimony in terms of importance in the eyes of the court, and there may be more stringent measures taken to enforce a child support order.

If you are going through a divorce, it is important that you understand all of the different obligations that the court could impose upon you. To get help, you should strongly consider speaking with a lawyer who specializes in family law.  

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