Alimony FAQ

Various types of financial obligations are owed as a result of divorce. Here are some of the more frequent terms and definitions.

Alimony: Payments made from one spouse to the other during a separation or a divorce (dissolution of marriage). Also known as spousal support.

Child Support: As a general rule, both spouses have a duty to provide support for their minor children.

Family Support: A combination of alimony and child support. Similar in nature to separate maintenance payments.

Rehabilitative Support: Payments made from one spouse to the other over a period of time to enable the supported spouse to obtain a career and become self-supporting. Also known as alimony and spousal support.

Separate Maintenance Payments: Payments made from one spouse to the other when they are no longer living together as husband and wife for the support of the spouse and the children in his/her custody. Similar in nature to family support.

Spousal Support: Payments made from one spouse to the other during a separation or a divorce (dissolution of marriage). Also known as alimony.

How are support payments treated under federal income tax rules?

Child support payments are typically not deductible from the income of the payer and are not included as taxable income to the supported spouse. Alimony or spousal support payments are tax deductible by the payer and taxable income to the supported spouse.

What factors can be used to determine the amount of alimony?

Some of the factors (which vary from state to state) used to determine the amount of alimony to be paid by one spouse to the other include:

  • The ability to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, considering the earning capacities of each of the parties.
  • The marketable skills of the supported spouse, the job market for those skills, the education or training needed to develop marketable skills.
  • The ability of the payer to make support payments taking into account his/her earning capacity.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • The ability of the supported spouse to be employed without unduly interfering with child care responsibilities.
  • The age and health of the respective spouses.

Legal separation has certain income tax advantages with respect to deductibility of spousal support payments. It is sometimes an alternative to divorce for religious reasons. Sometimes it is preferable to a divorce for purposes of insurance coverage. Often it is simply used as a trial for the couple to consider the possibilities of reuniting or divorcing.

How long will alimony be ordered?

Alimony is ordered to be paid during the time period that the supported spouse is seeking education, training, and marketable job skills in order to establish a career or otherwise become self-supportive. Consideration of the responsibility for providing child care during the early years of a minor child factors into this determination. In some instances, depending on the age and health of the supported spouse, it could be permanent. In addition, typically a court order for alimony terminates upon the death or remarriage of the supported spouse.

Can medical insurance be included in alimony?

Often. In a case where the supported spouse depended upon the other spouse for health insurance during the marriage and does not have sufficient means to obtain such insurance, the court may require the payer spouse to continue to provide medical insurance. Alternatively, the amount of alimony can be increased so that the supported spouse will have the ability to purchase medical insurance.