If you’re facing a divorce, you’ll have to face reality: Alimony payments—also known in some states as “spousal support” or “maintenance”—are alive and well in the American divorce system. And if you earn substantially more money than a spouse to whom you have been married for several years, there is a good chance you will be ordered to pay some alimony. On the other hand, alimony generally isn’t awarded for short marriages or where you and your spouse earn close to the same amount.
 
If alimony is ordered, you will generally have to pay a specified amount each month until:
 
  • A date set by a judge several years in the future
  • Your former spouse remarries
  • Your children no longer need a full-time parent at home
  • A judge determines that after a reasonable period of time, your spouse has not made a sufficient effort to become at least partially self-supporting
  • Some other significant event—such as retirement—occurs, convincing a judge to modify the amount paid, or
  • One of you dies.
  • As with most issues in your divorce, you and your spouse can agree to the amount and length of time alimony will be paid. But if you can’t agree, a court will set the terms for you. Unfortunately, having a court make the decision means there will be a trial, and that can cost you a lot of time and money.