Alimony or Maintenance is still a valid element in divorce proceedings today. It is a method of putting the divorcing couples on an equal footing financially and can be considered in an overall property settlement agreement.

The availability of alimony is dictated by state statute. In a marriage where both spouses’ earnings are approximately equal or the marriage was short, it is generally not awarded by the court. In some instances if the parties have been married the required number of years, usually 20 or more, the award of alimony is permanent.

In determining whether a party is eligible for alimony the court will look at future earning potential, whether both spouses worked outside of the home during the marriage, and how much each party currently earns. Other considerations are: the age of the parties, how long one party may have been out of the workforce, what it may take for the dependent spouse to become self-supporting, and the length of the marriage.

Given that a good portion of marriages today are two-wage earner marriages, women should be aware that if they earn significantly more than their husband does, they could be ordered to pay alimony. Alimony awards are not given to punish one party or the other. It is the recognition that two parties entered into an emotional and financial contract they thought would last forever and it did not.

The good news is alimony does not necessarily last forever. Alimony can end, if the party receiving alimony remarries or if the court determines that the dependent party is not making an effort to become self-supporting. This means that the spouse receiving the support cannot remain in a part-time job for low wages and continue to collect alimony indefinitely. They may be required to return to school for more training or take other steps to increase their earnings.

Other factors that can terminate alimony are death, retirement of the spouse paying alimony, or the determination by the court that the dependent spouse will receive alimony for a limited period.

It is possible to have control over the amount and length of alimony payments. If the parties can reach an agreement rather than having the court decide the issue, then they are more likely to have an alimony structure that both parties can live with.

Alimony is a court order. If the spouse ordered to pay alimony does not pay, the receiving spouse can file a motion to hold the non-paying spouse in contempt of the order and take steps to enforce the order. This could mean wage orders or jail if necessary.