Who Gets Alimony, and Who Pays It?


  • Author Glenn Doyle
  • Published December 24, 2019
  • Word count 781

When couples get divorced, there is one question everyone wants to ask. Who is responsible for paying alimony, and how is it determined?

There are two primary factors to consider when determining the answer to this question:

Does one spouse earn significantly more than the other?

Have both spouses been married for a significant period of time?

When both of these questions point to yes, then alimony will be an important talking point moving forward during the divorce process. While it is common knowledge that alimony involves regular payments from one ex-spouse to the other, there are numerous common misconceptions associated with it.

Common Misnomers:

Mentioning alimony often stirs up thoughts of one spouse draining the other of all their hard-earned money, leaving them penniless and broke. Alimony payment amounts are often discussed as brag points on both sides of the ledger depending on the amount involved. Despite this image, the laws surrounding alimony are not so cut and dry, so let’s take some time to dig into the details.

The Reality:

Alimony can be summarized as the lump-sum or recurring payments for the maintenance of a former spouse for a definite or indefinite period of time. This typically takes the form of monthly payments from one spouse to the other for a predetermined period of time.

What Makes You Entitled to Alimony?

Alimony is paid from the supporting spouse to the dependent. That means that for a spouse to qualify to receive alimony, they must be legally dependent on the income of their spouse to sustain their lifestyle and pay their bills. This is most common in relationships where one spouse earns substantially more than the other.

Who Pays the Alimony?

So if one spouse has been declared a "dependent," it is natural to assume this implies the other spouse would be the supporting spouse. For the other spouse to be considered supporting, they must be the earner on whom you were dependent to pay your bills. If, for example, you were both dependent on another family member, government assistance, or a trust fund to meet your needs, your spouse may not necessarily be considered the "supporting" party.

Another important factor, though it is not specifically highlighted by the laws, is that your spouse must earn more than you do in order to qualify to receive alimony. If your spouse is earning equal or less income, there will be no case for alimony, even if you need it to pay your bills.

The next natural question is how much more must your spouse make in order for you to qualify to receive alimony? The answer is not exact, but the legal text uses the term "substantially dependent" to define the status of an alimony recipient. This implies that there must be a significant inequality of income between both parties.


If there is any one act that can completely disqualify a dependent spouse from receiving alimony, it is adultery. If the dependent spouse has an illicit affair with someone other than here spouse, this can completely destroy any case for alimony.

If both spouses were guilty of committing adulterous acts, then these will be considered in determining the alimony awarded, but it will not derail the case. Additionally, if the dependent spouse committed an adulterous act long ago, and it has been forgiven since, then the court will not hold it against the alimony plea.

Determining Alimony

The next step is for the court to determine if an alimony award can be considered equitable after considering some of the following factors among others:

Acts of marital misconduct by either spouse

Income and earning capacity of both parties

Age, and health factors that affect either spouse’s ability to earn

Assets of each party including retirement accounts, portfolios, real estate assets, social security, pensions and more

The length of the marriage

Lifestyle and standards of living for both spouses

Liabilities incurred by both spouses

Once these have been considered, the court will decide upon an equitable alimony sum, if there is a case for alimony in the first place. The amounts of these rewards are not easily predictable and can vary widely between jurisdictions. In many parts of the country, it has become less common to grant alimony, and the amounts have been reduced in most cases. There is also great risk on the supporting party’s part of having to pay the legal fees of the dependent spouse. This can quickly become a massive expense depending on the size of the estate and the contentiousness of the case. Dutifully providing for a dependent spouse during divorce proceedings increases the chance that this attorney fee award will not be enforced.

When couples get divorced, there is one question everyone wants to ask. Who is responsible for paying alimony, and how is it determined?

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