When Can a Spouse Claim Alimony or Spousal Support?

In the wake of a divorce, spousal support, or alimony, may need to be paid by one spouse to the other. Understandably, lots of questions surround this issue. Maybe you’re currently filing for a divorce and want to know if you would be eligible for spousal support. Or, maybe you are the breadwinner and wondering if you would have to pay spousal support.

First, let’s take a closer look at what spousal support is.

What is spousal support?

Spousal support is financial support one spouse (usually the higher-earning person) may be required to pay the other spouse in the event of divorce.

States often require spousal support so the disadvantaged party can maintain their marital standard of living until they remarry or are able to support themselves. For example, it’s common for stay-at-home parents who may not have had a job in the years preceding the divorce to request support.

A judge considers multiple factors when deciding how much spousal support should be paid (and if it should be paid at all). One of these factors is the length of the marriage. For shorter marriages of 10 years or less, spousal support may be ordered for half the length of the marriage or less.

Lump-sum vs. monthly payments

If a judge orders spousal support, it might be made in a lump sum or in smaller installments. Some people find the lump sum a more practical option, particularly if the spousal support period will last a limited amount of time.

What is temporary spousal support? 

One type of spousal support a judge might order is temporary spousal support

This type of spousal support is unique since it is only paid while the divorce is pending. What’s the reason behind this? If you file a contested divorce, it could drag on for months. That’s a long time for a low-income or no-income person to go without cash flow – and that’s precisely why a spouse might request temporary support. (In fact, for similar reasons, one can obtain temporary orders for everything from property division to child custody. Some issues simply cannot wait for months to be resolved.)

What to do if you need temporary spousal support

If you believe you need temporary spousal support, you can visit the court to file a request for it. A hearing will be scheduled within a short period of time, and a judge will listen to your case and decide if spousal support should be awarded until the divorce is finalized. 

The hearing is quite straightforward. Keep in mind, however, that formal temporary support orders aren’t possible in states like California. It’s vital to familiarize yourself with your state’s rules for temporary spousal support before making this request. 

Watch: Spousal Support During Divorce


What a judge may look at when determining spousal benefits 

If you believe you are owed spousal support, you should know that the judge who oversees your divorce will consider multiple factors when deciding whether to award it – and if so, how much.

First, the judge will look at your income, assets, and debts and your spouse’s income, assets, and debts. They will take specific needs into account when calculating the spousal support amount. For example, if the spouse who earns less money has a disability and requires extra care, the judge might decide to award a higher amount to the disadvantaged party.

Length of marriage

Another key aspect the judge considers is the length of your marriage. As we mentioned, spousal support cannot exceed half the duration of the marriage for those married for less than 10 years. (And often, no spousal support is awarded post a short-term marriage.)

On the other hand, if the marriage lasted over 10 years, there isn’t a specific calculation used to determine how long support will last. Let’s say your marriage lasted 20 years. In this case, spousal support may be awarded for 10 years or longer.

Separation date and other factors

When a judge looks at the length of your marriage, they also note the date of separation. For example, if you and your spouse have been married for 10 years but have been separated for one year, it’s likely that the spousal support would last no more than 4 1/2 years. 

Other factors a judge may consider when calculating spousal support include the following: 

  • The age of each spouse
  • The health of each spouse
  • Whether there are any kids
  • Whether the spouse in need has left the workforce to care for kids 

Spousal support in different states 

Before you file for a divorce, keep in mind that spousal support differs depending on the state you live in. In fact, state-to-state differences are present in nearly every facet of spousal support, from spousal support calculations to how long support lasts. 

Two quick examples:

  • In California, spousal support becomes long-term if the marriage lasted for 10 years or more. 
  • In Colorado, long-term spousal support is only available for marriages that last longer than 12.5 years.

For this reason, it can be very helpful to get legal advice or coaching before asking for spousal support.

Learn all you can about how spousal support works if you or your spouse might request it. Hello Divorce offers a wealth of free resources, like our article about how President Trump’s tax bill affected support agreements made after December 31, 2018.

Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.