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CostHelper > Personal Finance  > Legal > Alimony

Alimony Cost

How Much Does Alimony Cost?

 average costTypical: Percentage of Income 
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Also called spousal support or spousal maintenance, alimony is typically a series of payments (usually monthly or possibly weekly) that one spouse is required to pay the other spouse as part of a separation or divorce. Alimony is intended to limit any unfair economic consequences of a divorce by providing ongoing income to a spouse who either has no income or earns a lower wage than the alimony-paying spouse. Alimony is not child support, where the non-custodial parent is required to make periodic payments to the custodial parent to help with child-rearing expenses.

Typical costs:

  • There are no set formulas for calculating alimony payments, and therefore no estimated average alimony or spousal support payment. Payments are typically based on a percentage of the alimony-paying spouse's income.
  • State and local laws and regulations vary significantly regarding the amount of alimony allowed or how long spousal support payments must be made. For example, in Texas[1] the maximum spousal support allowed is 20% of the alimony-paying spouse's income or $2,500 (whichever is less); alimony will not be awarded to someone who has been married less than 10 years; and spousal maintenance payments are usually limited to three years unless the recipient spouse has physical or mental disabilities that prevent self-sufficiency. (Effective Sept. 1, 2011, the Texas maximum monthly payment will change to $5,000 or 20%; and the maximum duration of payments will be extended from three years to five, seven or 10 years depending on the length of the marriage.)
  • In California[2] , the Superior Courts of Orange and Los Angeles County have set the formula for temporary spousal support at 40% of the paying spouse's net income minus half of the receiving spouse's net income.
  • The Divorce Center in Florida describes[3] alimony as a jigsaw puzzle, saying "alimony in Florida is one of the more unpredictable areas of family law" and asserting that "you can have the same set of facts and get 10 different decisions in 10 different courts."
Related articles: Divorce, Child Support, Attorney Fees

What should be included:
  • Generally the decision about whether to award alimony, how much should be paid and for how long is left to the judge's discretion, usually based on specific factors listed in state laws. Typically the important issues in deciding about alimony are the standard of living the couple maintained while married, the need level of the recipient spouse (if this person can be self-sufficient or will divorce create hardships) and the ability of the alimony-paying spouse to make the lifestyles of both spouses relatively equal. Alimony is more likely to be awarded if the couple was married for at least 10-15 years. lists possible criteria for awarding alimony[4] and provides a questionnaire[5] to indicate if an individual might be entitled to or be required to pay spousal support.
  • There are several categories of alimony, and how, when or if each type might apply in a particular separation or divorce varies by state law. Temporary alimony is ordered when the spouses are separated prior to divorce. Compensatory alimony is intended to "pay back" one spouse for his or her work helping the other spouse become more financially successful. Transitional or rehabilitative alimony is awarded for a specific length of time (often one to three years) and is intended to help a lower-earning spouse transition from married life to a self-sufficient single life. Maintenance alimony is generally reserved for a marriage of more than 10-15 years (depending on state law) where one spouse significantly out-earns the other, or if one spouse is in much worse health than the other. Permanent alimony is paid to a spouse who earns significantly less than the other spouse, and is paid until the death of the recipient, the re-marriage of the recipient or the death of the person paying the alimony. Lump sum alimony is a fixed and final dollar amount paid either in a single payment or over a period of time. provides an overview[6] .
Additional costs:
  • In most circumstances, alimony payments are taxed as income for the recipient. explains how to keep records of alimony payments[7] for tax purposes.
  • In most circumstances, alimony payments are tax deductible for the person making the payments. explains how to how to keep records[8] of alimony payments for tax purposes.
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