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How Alimony Payments are Determined

written by: Jim Vassallo•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 6/29/2011

If you're wondering how are alimony payments determined, it varies on different factors that appear during a marriage. These factors must be evaluated by the judge presiding over the case before any alimony payments are awarded.

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    How Are Alimony Payments Determined?

    Many people going through divorce proceedings ask themselves the following question: "How are alimony payments determined?" The answer is not as simple as some might think. For instance, judges involved in these cases will need to examine various aspects of the marriage, all of which will be outlined later in the article. The purpose of alimony is to help a lower wage earning spouse or a non wage earning spouse stay afloat with a continuing source of income. The money comes from the other spouse who is ordered to pay that money by the judge presiding over the case.

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    Legal Standard for Divorce

    800px-Legal Dictionaries The legal standard for divorce is that both spouses involved should be able to enjoy the same lifestyle and standard of living that they became accustomed to during the marriage. Alimony, also referred to as spousal support, is an important part of the divorce process. If you and your spouse were married for a long time, then the chances of receiving alimony payments is higher. If you and your spouse were married for a short period of time and have relatively equal income or earning potential, then you will probably not see any alimony payments in your divorce rulings.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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    Determining Alimony Payments

    In the legal world, a spouse has a ‘need’ because he or she cannot maintain the same lifestyle they had during the marriage. In the same light, a spouse has the ‘ability’ if he or she is able to make both lifestyles of the couple equal. Every single alimony case revolves around the issues of need and ability. If neither need nor ability can be proven in the court, then alimony will not be awarded.

    In most cases, it is difficult for both spouses to maintain the same lifestyle because they are going from one household to two households, making money a major problem. The goal in this scenario is to get the spouses as close to equal as possible but the court will not equalize the incomes by using alimony payments. The court could also include health insurance premiums as alimony in some cases, and when the court decides alimony, they think about the parties going forward from the marriage.

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    Alimony in a Nutshell

    The important issues in alimony are the marriage lifestyle, the need of the recipient spouse, and the ability of the paying spouse. As with child support, income-based issues raise questions about hidden income and attributable income. Hidden income includes passive income, self-employment, business ownership, and valuation. Attributable income includes purposeful underemployment or unemployment.

    In previous years, alimony payments were typically made from an ex-husband to an ex-wife, but with the changing of society, the trends have changed as well. Now, more ex-wives are paying alimony to their ex-husbands because the couple both earned wages, sometimes with the woman earning more than the man. Often, when considering how are alimony payments determined, it depends upon the spouse who earns the highest wages.