Define: Alimony Payment

Alimony Payment
Alimony Payment
Quick Summary of Alimony Payment

An alimony payment is a periodic pre-determined sum awarded to a spouse or former spouse following a separation or divorce. Alimony is an obligation to make payments for support or maintenance; an alimony payment is the actual sum paid to fulfil the obligation.

What is the dictionary definition of Alimony Payment?
Dictionary Definition of Alimony Payment

A payment of support to a former spouse following divorce or legal separation.

In the US, alimony payments are payments in a divorce settlement. They are treated as deductions from adjusted gross income by the payer, but they are treated as income (for tax purposes) for the recipient.

Full Definition Of Alimony Payment

The money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce. Except in marriages of long duration (ten years or more) or in the case of an ailing spouse, alimony usually lasts for a set period, with the expectation that the recipient spouse will become self-supporting. Alimony is also called “spousal support” or “maintenance.”

Alimony, also known as spousal support or maintenance, refers to the financial support that one spouse may be required to provide to the other following a divorce or separation. This payment is designed to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a standard of living comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage. Alimony is a complex and often contentious aspect of family law, involving various factors that courts consider when determining its necessity, amount, and duration. This overview aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of alimony payments, including their purpose, types, determination criteria, and potential modifications.

Purposes of Alimony

The primary purpose of alimony is to mitigate the financial disparity between divorcing spouses. It recognises that marriage often involves economic sacrifices, with one spouse potentially foregoing career advancement to support the household or raise children. Alimony seeks to address these imbalances by providing financial support to the lower-earning or non-earning spouse, ensuring they are not left destitute post-divorce.

Alimony serves several key purposes:

  • Economic Compensation: Compensates for financial contributions made during the marriage, such as homemaking and child-rearing.
  • Standard of Living: Helps maintain a lifestyle similar to that enjoyed during the marriage.
  • Transition Support: Provides temporary financial assistance during the transition from married to single life, allowing the recipient to gain financial independence.

Types of Alimony

Alimony can take various forms, each tailored to specific circumstances and needs. The primary types include:

Temporary Alimony

Temporary alimony, also known as pendente lite support, is awarded during the divorce proceedings. Its purpose is to provide immediate financial support to the lower-earning spouse until a final settlement is reached. This type of alimony ensures that both parties can manage their living expenses during the legal process.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony is designed to support the recipient spouse while they gain the education, training, or work experience necessary to become self-sufficient. This type of alimony is typically awarded for a specified period, reflecting the time needed for the recipient to establish financial independence.

Permanent Alimony

Permanent alimony, as the name suggests, continues indefinitely or until a significant change in circumstances occurs. It is generally awarded in long-term marriages where one spouse may not be able to achieve financial independence due to age, health, or lack of work experience. However, this form of alimony is becoming less common in favour of rehabilitative and transitional support.

Lump-Sum Alimony

Lump-sum alimony involves a one-time payment, either in cash or property, instead of periodic payments. This type of alimony may be agreed upon by both parties or ordered by the court. It provides finality and eliminates the need for ongoing financial ties between the ex-spouses.

Reimbursement Alimony

Reimbursement alimony compensates a spouse for financial contributions made towards the other spouse’s education or career advancement during the marriage. This type of alimony recognises the investment one spouse makes in the other’s earning potential.

Determination of Alimony

The determination of alimony is a multifaceted process, with courts considering numerous factors to arrive at a fair and equitable decision. These factors can vary depending on jurisdiction but generally include the following:

Duration of the Marriage

The length of the marriage is a significant factor in alimony decisions. Longer marriages are more likely to result in alimony awards, particularly if one spouse was financially dependent on the other.

Financial Needs and Resources

Courts assess the financial needs and resources of both spouses, including income, assets, and liabilities. The goal is to ensure that the alimony award does not create undue financial hardship for either party.

Age and Health of the Parties

The age and health of both spouses are crucial considerations. Older spouses or those with health issues may require longer-term or more substantial alimony support, as they may face greater challenges in achieving financial independence.

Standard of Living

The standard of living established during the marriage is a benchmark for determining alimony. Courts strive to ensure that the lower-earning spouse can maintain a lifestyle comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage.

Earning Capacity and Employability

The earning capacity and employability of both spouses are critical factors. Courts consider the education, skills, work experience, and job market prospects of the recipient spouse to determine their potential for self-sufficiency.

Contributions to the Marriage

Non-financial contributions, such as homemaking and child-rearing, are also considered. Courts recognise that these contributions often enable the higher-earning spouse to pursue career opportunities, thus warranting compensation through alimony.

Marital Misconduct

In some jurisdictions, marital misconduct, such as adultery or abuse, may influence alimony decisions. However, this is not universally applicable and varies by legal framework.

Modification and Termination of Alimony

Alimony is not always a permanent arrangement and can be modified or terminated under certain conditions. The circumstances that may warrant a change in alimony include:

Change in Financial Circumstances

Significant changes in the financial circumstances of either party, such as loss of income, job promotion, or inheritance, can lead to a modification of alimony. The courts may adjust the amount or duration of payments to reflect the new financial reality.

Remarriage or Cohabitation

The recipient spouse’s remarriage or cohabitation with a new partner can impact alimony. Many jurisdictions allow for the termination or reduction of alimony if the recipient’s financial needs are being met by the new partner.


The paying spouse’s retirement can be grounds for modifying alimony, particularly if it results in a substantial decrease in income. The courts consider whether retirement is voluntary or mandatory and the financial implications for both parties.

Death of a Spouse

Alimony typically terminates upon the death of either spouse. However, some agreements or court orders may include provisions for continued support from the estate of the deceased.

Tax Implications of Alimony

The tax treatment of alimony payments has undergone significant changes in recent years. Prior to 2019, alimony payments were tax-deductible for the payer and taxable income for the recipient under U.S. federal tax law. However, following the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), this is no longer the case for divorce agreements finalised after December 31, 2018. The new tax treatment means that alimony payments are neither deductible by the payer nor taxable for the recipient.

Legal Considerations and Enforcement

Alimony agreements can be reached through negotiation, mediation, or court order. Regardless of the method, it is crucial to formalise the agreement in writing and have it approved by the court to ensure enforceability. Failure to comply with alimony obligations can result in legal consequences, including wage garnishment, property liens, or even imprisonment for contempt of court.


Alimony payments play a vital role in ensuring financial fairness and stability following a divorce. By understanding the various types of alimony, the factors influencing their determination, and the conditions for modification or termination, individuals can navigate this complex aspect of family law more effectively.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 9th June 2024.

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