Long-term alimony is no longer as common as it was in years past, and is seldom issued unless there are extenuating circumstances that would warrant such payments. Both parties (men and women) are viewed by the courts as equals, and so therefore divorce assumes that each party is capable of supporting themselves following the divorce. A number of states have passed laws that ban long-term alimony outright. However, there are some cases where alimony is still awarded upon a divorce, either on a short-term or long-term basis:
- Short term (or rehabilitative) alimony
Rehabilitative alimony is paid over a set, short-term amount of time, and is meant to provide support while a spouse does what is necessary to get back on their feet again following a divorce. It may cover a period of time for the spouse to go back to school or gain other necessary skills that enable them to successfully re-enter the workforce, or it may simply be ordered for the time it takes for that person to find a job. It’s usually only considered when one parent has been out of the workforce for quite some time, either as a stay-at-home parent caring for the children or as a homemaker, and therefore needs time to reintegrate into a professional life.
If a spouse has health problems or another disability, alimony may be ordered as part of the divorce settlement.
- When wealth and fault combine
If one person has substantially more financial wealth and a much higher income, and is determined to be at fault in the divorce, then alimony may be awarded in order to support “the lifestyle for which a spouse has become accustomed.
- Long-term alimony
Although long-term alimony is a dying trend, there are some places in the U.S. where it is still awarded, and so you should brace for this possibility. It’s most likely to be awarded after lengthy marriages when a wife has been out of the workforce for some time. Whether and how much alimony is a court might consider is up in the air. “Because each marriage is different and each judge is different, the amount and duration of alimony often varies wildly,” observes Belinda Luscombe. The decisions can thus seem quite arbitrary and unfair. As law professor Ira Mark Ellman states, “Alimony is the most unstable area of family law.” (Luscombe, 2013)
Alimony also tends to fuel conflict. Not only are fights over alimony among the most bitter that occur in divorce, but it can create resentment and an unhealthy dynamic going forward. When the person paying alimony remarries, the new wife can resent the fact that her husband is still supporting his ex-wife, especially since it essentially drains money from the new family. Her money goes to help supplement the husband’s income, whose earnings are being drained by alimony, so it can essentially feel like she’s supporting his ex-wife, too. It m also makes it impossible for the couple to truly separate. The ex-wife becomes dependent on the husband, who in turn is locked into a lifelong obligation. “Even if you are only paying $50, you have this umbilical cord that connects you to this other person,” says one alimony reform advocate. (ibid)
Alimony payments are largely dependent on the other party’s ability to pay. So even if you’ve been out of work and need some time to reintegrate, don’t expect an alimony payment if your former spouse’s budget is already stretched thin.