What is Spousal Support?

wiseGEEK Writer

Spousal support (alimony) is money paid from one spouse to another, possibly as soon as a divorce is filed to some time after the marriage is officially ended through divorce. Not all people qualify for this support, which should be thought of as distinct from child support. Sometimes a person receives both spousal or personal support and child support, but amounts and length of time spousal support are received can depend on a variety of factors and on the regional laws that define when support is warranted. Alternately some divorcing couples craft their own support arrangements that are independent of the courts or have predetermined support details in a prenuptial agreement.

Spousal support is typically setup separate from child support.
Spousal support is typically setup separate from child support.

Usually, spousal support goes one way. Either the husband or the wife, typically the spouse with greater income, might be asked to contribute some money to the support of the ex-spouse. Courts use complex formulas to evaluate fair amounts, and they don’t simply look at the incomes of each spouse. They might also determine amount of support based on factors like how long the marriage lasted and the activities of the spouse who could need support. For example, if a husband worked to put his wife through school and wasn’t able to fully develop his career, but his support allowed his wife to have a much more successful career, the husband might be able to get a greater amount of spousal support.

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is paid as part of a divorce.
Spousal support, also known as alimony, is paid as part of a divorce.

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Unlike child support, which typically lasts until a child has graduated from high school and has reached adulthood, spousal support can be a shorter arrangement, particularly if the spouse requesting it has a means for self-support. Courts may set a specific amount of years that support will be offered. If circumstances change, such as loss of income on the supporting spouse’s part, people can go back to court and renegotiate, though a judge may still maintain the original order has merit. People should be under no illusions about the judge’s order; they are obligated by law to meet the terms of it, unless they can convince a judge that the terms should be different. Refusal to pay could result in wage garnishment.

There are important taxation laws to consider for the person paying or receiving alimony. The payer is often able to deduct alimony or child support payments from taxable income. The person receiving the payments may have to treat this money as income that is taxable. All spousal support in a year should be recorded so that it can be reported on year-end taxes, and people should think of the tax implications because support checks don’t have taxes reduced from them.

Spousal support can end by court mandate, if couples decide to end the arrangement earlier, or if certain circumstances occur in the supported spouse’s life. A new marriage by the spouse receiving support typically ends spousal support, though it may have no effect on child support. Sometimes raising income level brings support to an earlier end too.

Discussion Comments


Would it benefit me to have a wage assignment for my spousal report? I have to continually have to remind my ex to pay me. He is also now being sued by a bank for non payment of credit card balances. I am sure the bank will put a lien on him and worry that he will no longer pay me.

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