Courts typically award spousal support when one divorcing spouse earns considerably more than the other. There are no strict rules setting out how much a spouse will receive, or for how long.
Judges try to award a just and fair amount in each case, a decision based on many factors, including the lifestyle of the couple while they were married and the length of the union.
Alimony by Any Other Name
Spousal support is another name for alimony, a fixed amount one divorcing spouse pays to the other each month. Either spouse can make a request for alimony, which often will be granted if one spouse earns significantly more than the other.
The idea behind alimony is to make certain that, after a divorce, the lesser-earning spouse has sufficient funds to continue to live in the style he/she became accustomed to during the marriage. According to legal experts at Nolo Press, alimony is generally not awarded if the marriage was very short, or if the spouses earn similar incomes.
Calculating Reasonable Needs
The amount of spousal support the court awards will usually be based on the "reasonable needs" of the spouse seeking support, taking into account the ability of the other spouse to pay. Each couple's circumstances are different, and the considerations the court uses for determining the amount and length of alimony differ from one divorce to the next. The goal is for the spouse who receives alimony to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.
Factors the Courts Evaluate
In most states, divorce court judges must weigh many factors when determining issues of alimony. According to the California Courts website, these include: the length of the marriage; the age and health of each spouse, as well as his/her respective incomes, expenses, and property.
The court also looks at how much income each person requires to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage. Other significant factors include whether one spouse contributed to the other's education or career, and whether the lesser-earning spouse had child care responsibilities. Any history of domestic violence is also considered.
Length of Time Support Payments Last
Rules governing the length of alimony vary depending on the state. Some distinguish between marriages "of long duration" and marriages of "short duration." For example, California calls a marriage of fewer than 10 years a marriage of short duration, and alimony is often awarded for one-half the length of the marriage. For long-duration marriages, the court does not set an ending date for alimony, but will generally continue to monitor the case.
These are some of the general factors evaluated in the determination of spousal support. It's best to check your specific state or locality for spousal support considerations.