What Is Alimony (aka Spousal Support)

Alimony is the term used for the court-ordered payments that get awarded to a spouse or former spouse within a separation or divorce agreement. For this reason, it is also known as “spousal support” or “spousal maintenance.”

In most marriages, one spouse is usually the primary source of income. The purpose of alimony is to provide financial support to the spouse who makes a lower income, or in some cases, no income at all.
In most states, the law dictates that a divorced spouse has the right to live the same quality of life they previously had when married.

Is Spousal Support the Same as Child Support?

Alimony is not the same as child support. Spousal support payments are specifically meant to support a spouse or former spouse, whereas child support payments are specifically intended to support one or more children from a dissolved relationship or marriage.

Alimony and Tax Responsibilities

Alimony payments were once considered a taxable income for the recipient and a deductible expense for the payer, but under The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) put forth by the Trump administration, this is no longer the case. Under the new rules, alimony recipients will no longer owe federal tax on this support. Because of these new tax changes and their impact on each spouse’s finances, courts now consider the tax implications of alimony when deciding how much support is appropriate.

When Does Alimony Start and End?

Alimony payments begin as soon as the divorce order requiring it is signed by the judge. This type of support typically continues until death, remarriage, or court order. Alimony may also be terminated when the breadwinner reaches retirement or in cases where the judge deems that the recipient is not making efforts to become self-sufficient.

What Happens if Spousal Support Is Not Paid?

If a spouse does not make their required alimony payments, they can be held in contempt of court. In this situation, the supported spouse can file a show cause action (motion) against the spouse refusing to make their alimony payments. The court will then schedule a hearing to determine why the support payments are not being made.
If there is no legitimate reason for the nonpayment, then the court will order the spouse to pay alimony retroactively to make up for any missed payments. It is also important to note that alimony support payments are not eligible for discharge in bankruptcy.

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