Divorce is rarely easy. Complicated emotions coupled with needing to determine how to divide property and assets make the process difficult without some guidelines in place. State family laws seek to provide some degree of assistance to the parties and the court to determine issues such as how much support one spouse should pay to another.
Spousal support -- the modern term for alimony -- is money paid to a spouse to prevent undue hardship on that spouse’s financial and social situation. Public policy and other concerns want to avoid one spouse going from living comfortably to living in squalor due to the divorce and that spouse’s financial dependence. Courts do not award spousal support in every case; the award is discretionary in many states. Courts use several guidelines to determine if spousal support is necessary.
Spousal support guidelines vary by state. Generally, courts look at factors such as the length of the marriage, the health and age of each spouse, the spouse’s earning ability and current income, the needs of each spouse and the prior standard of living. In Michigan, for example, courts must look at 11 different factors and comment on each factor in their determination as to whether spousal support is necessary. If spousal support is necessary, courts may determine the amount based on a percentage of both spouses' income.
Amount and Example
State family laws that regulate spousal support typically determine the amount based on a differential percentage of both spouses' income. According to Legal Zoom, a common approach is to take up to 40 percent of the paying spouse’s net income subtracted by 50 percent of the supported spouse’s income. If the paying spouse nets $3,000 each month and the supported spouse earns $1,500, the amount would be $450 ($1,200 minus $750). In Pennsylvania, the court subtracts the paying spouse’s income from the supported spouse’s income and multiplies it by a percentage -- 30 percent with dependent children and 40 percent without dependent children. Under the same conditions -- with the paying spouse making $3,000 and the supported spouse earning $1,500 -- the amount in Pennsylvania would be $450 if the marriage has dependent children or $600 without dependent children.
A court may order different types of spousal support. It could, for example, be a one-time, lump sum payment or it could last for a specific period of time. Couples can also agree on an amount. To protect your legal rights with regard to this issue, you should seek independent legal advice from an attorney.
- Legal Zoom: Spousal Support (Alimony) in a Divorce
- Pennsylvania Code: Rule 1910.16-4; Support Guidelines; Calculation of Support Obligation Formula
- DivorceNet: Michigan Alimony Factors; Mindy Hitchcock
- Social Security Administration. "If You Are Divorced." Accessed Feb. 6, 2020.
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- Social Security Administration. "Deemed Filing for Retirement and Spouse’s Benefits FAQs." Accessed Feb. 6, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Benefits for Your Spouse." Accessed Feb. 6, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Social Security Benefits - Benefits for Spouses." Accessed Feb. 6, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Benefits for Your Family." Accessed Feb. 6, 2020.
Based in Traverse City, Mich., George Lawrence has been writing professionally since 2009. His work primarily appears on various websites. An avid outdoorsman, Lawrence holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in both criminal justice and English from Michigan State University, as well as a Juris Doctor from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he graduated with honors.