Parting ways with your significant other is messy enough on its own, before the added complications of the alimony process. The silver lining? Understanding the different types of spousal support doesn't have to be difficult. Take some of the confusion and stress out of the equation with this straight-forward guide to the different types of alimony, including who's eligible and how support is determined.
What is spousal support?
Spousal support—also known as alimony—is granted during a legally married couple's separation or upon the finalization of a couple's divorce. In a nutshell, the funds ensure that the lower-earning (or "dependent") partner is able to maintain the same standard of living when separated from the higher-earning partner.
Will I qualify for spousal support?
Whether or not a spouse receives spousal support or alimony depends on a few factors. Among those factors is the duration of the marriage, the ability of one spouse to pay the support, and the earning ability of the other spouse. The norm is rehabilitative alimony, but that's only one type of support a spouse can receive.
If you've been in a long-term marriage and both spouses work, with comparable incomes and pension plans, then more than likely there will be no spousal support. If, however, you've been in a long-term marriage (more than 10 years in most states), and you were a stay-at-home parent, have no marketable skills, and no pension plan of your own, you'll probably receive spousal support. The takeaway: The type of spousal support you'll receive will depend on the financial situation in the marriage and the laws governing spousal support in your state of residency.
The different types of alimony
Temporary spousal support/alimony: Also referred to as “pendente lite,” temporary spousal support is given when the parties are separated and the divorce is not yet final. This is given so that the dependent spouse may maintain her/his lifestyle between the time the couple separates and divorces. It's often awarded via a temporary court order. Should the couple reconcile or finalize their divorce, the alimony would stop (in the latter case, the alimony would be reassessed in family law court).
Rehabilitative spousal support/alimony: Rehabilitative spousal support is awarded for a short period and is meant to help a spouse “rehabilitate"—that is, obtain the job training, professional experience, or education that would allow him or her to become self-sufficient. It's also given to the stay-at-home parent of small children so that he or she may stay home until the children reach school age.
Rehabilitative spousal support is normally set for a fixed period. The parties can agree to a timeline or the courts can mandate a timeline. If you're the receiving spouse, you'll want to make sure that your final divorce decree states that the need for spousal support is subject to review later. This means the court may look at the facts of a case and determine if spousal support should be continued, discontinued, or the amount changed.
Permanent spousal support/alimony: Permanent spousal support continues until the death of the payor, the death of the recipient, or the remarriage of the recipient. In some cases, it can continue after the remarriage of the recipient. It's a good idea if you're receiving permanent spousal support to request that your spouse carry a life insurance policy with you as the beneficiary. If he/she dies, you will not have to suffer the financial consequences of losing your spousal support.
Permanent spousal support can be adjusted based on a change of circumstance. An adjustment in the amount of support depends on any financial changes in the life of the payor of the recipient. If the recipient obtains a job with a higher salary, the payor can petition the courts to modify the spousal support so that he/she is paying less. If the recipient suffers a loss of salary or a traumatic medical problem, he/she can petition the courts and request an increase in support.
Reimbursement spousal support/alimony: Reimbursement Spousal Support is paid so that a spouse can “reimburse” the other spouse for certain expenses incurred by the other. For example, if you're married to a doctor and you worked and help put him/her through medical school, you may be able to obtain reimbursement spousal support that will pay back the money you spent to help build your spouse’s career. The payments can be made in a lump sum or over a period of time.
Lump-sum alimony: Also known as alimony in gross, this type of spousal support involves a fixed cash payout, remitted either in a single transaction or in installments. While lump-sum alimony allows both parties to cut ties more quickly, this type of spousal support can't be modified down the road. This sets lump-sum alimony apart from the other types of "periodic" spousal support, as the payments aren't contingent upon either party's financial situation or marital status.