Types of Alimony: Short-Term and Long-Term Support
Alimony, also sometimes known as spousal support, involves payments from one partner to another. Typically, the paying party has a better job or more assets. The receiving party needs help to maintain the lifestyle the couple shared.
Discussing spousal support isn't easy, and couples often use lawyers and mediators to help them determine what's fair. Here's what you need to know about how alimony works in a typical divorce.
What are the different types of alimony?
During a divorce, judges typically decide if one person should pay the other spousal support, how much is owed, and how long payments will last. Most states have guidelines to guide judges, but the person sitting on the bench has the final say.
Two main types of spousal support exist: long-term and short-term.
Short-term spousal support
In legal terms, short-term means anything that could last until one party dies or gets married. If you're awarded this type of spousal support, the judge will tell you exactly how long payments will last and what you must do during that time.
Multiple types of short-term spousal support exist, including these:
- Temporary: Complex divorces can take years to resolve. Sometimes, people just can't wait for help from their former partner. Temporary support is designed to tide over a lower-income spouse until the estate is split in final divorce documents.
- Rehabilitative: Couples don't always share the same education and prospects. Sometimes, one partner makes sacrifices (like staying home with children) so the other can succeed. Rehabilitative, or bridge-the-gap, support can help one party get an education or experience for a better-paying job.
- Reimbursing: A spouse who sacrificed jobs, education, or opportunities to help the other partner succeed may apply for reimbursement support. Courts can determine how long the payments should last based on how much the person is owed.
Watch: Spousal Support During Divorce
Long-term spousal support
Experts say courts are moving away from long-term spousal support. In most cases, judges want partners to help one another overcome financial difficulties caused by divorce, and short-term options are often enough to allow a disadvantaged partner to recover.
But long-lasting marriages can leave couples too old to retrain for new jobs, and they may face difficulties entering the workforce due to health or age-related discrimination. Long-term support can keep people like this comfortable as they age.
While long-term support can last for years, it's not indefinite. If either party dies or the recipient remarries, the payments typically stop.
State rules regarding spousal support
Just as states craft their own marriage laws, they can set rules about divorce. Some states allow almost every type of spousal support, and others limit payment size or duration.
For example, in Massachusetts, four types of alimony are allowed:
- General alimony could be short-term or long-term support, depending on the length of the marriage.
- Rehabilitative alimony is short-term support to help one partner get ready for work.
- Reimbursement alimony is short-term support after a marriage lasting no more than five years to repay one partner's sacrifice.
- Transitional alimony is short-term support to help one partner settle into a new lifestyle or location.
In Florida, four types of alimony are allowed:
- Rehabilitative alimony is short-term support to help someone prepare for work.
- Bridge-the-gap alimony is short-term support made to help one person transition to a new income bracket.
- Durational alimony could be long-term or short-term support, depending on the needs of the recipient.
- Permanent alimony allows one party to get payments from the other until death or remarriage.
In California, just two types of spousal support exist:
- Temporary support allows one partner to get financial assistance until the divorce is final.
- Long-term support extends payments per a judge's orders.
Clearly, states have conflicting rules about when payments start and end. You must use the laws that apply in the location where you filed for divorce. For example, if you married in Oregon but filed for divorce in California, the California spousal support rules apply to your break-up.
Lawyers can help you understand how things work where you live.
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What You Need to Know Right Now About Spousal Support in the United States and Canada. Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts.
The Paradox of Alimony for Men. (October 2021). The New York Times.
Learn About the Types of Alimony. Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The 2022 Florida Statutes. Florida Legislature.
Spousal Support. Judicial Branch of California.
California Alimony & Spousal Support (2023 Guide). (November 2022). Forbes.