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What factors might a court consider when awarding alimony?

When it comes to divorce, the phrase "alimony" may come up, and it can be a hotly contested issue. The spouse requesting alimony may want to ensure it is a fair amount, but the spouse that will be paying alimony may not agree on what is fair. This begs the question, however, of why pay alimony in the first place?

Alimony -- also known as spousal support -- is meant to keep one spouse from having an unfair economic advantage over the other spouse after a divorce. For example, one spouse may have left the workplace while married to be a homemaker, and is now facing re-entry into the workforce. Or perhaps both spouses had jobs while married, but one spouse earned significantly more than the other. Alimony payments to the lesser-earning spouse can help that spouse get by financially while they develop the skills necessary to be able to find a job that allows them to support themselves independently. Sometimes alimony is also paid so that each spouse can have a similar standard of living like they had while married.

Courts often have a good deal of discretion with regards to awarding alimony, both in the amount to be paid and for how long. Courts may consider a variety of factors in such situations. For example, they may consider how long it will take for the spouse receiving alimony to get the education or jobs skills needed to be able to financially support him or herself. How long the couple was married, and the standard of living they enjoyed while married may also be considered. The court may also consider each spouse's age and physical and mental health. Finally, the court may consider the ability of the spouse paying alimony to also be able to support him or herself financially as well.

Alimony payments should be fair and appropriate for both spouses. While sometimes spouses can agree on alimony payments out-of-court, other times they need to turn to a judge to make such a decision. In either case, it can be very helpful for each spouse to have legal representation, so that their interests are protected.

Source: FindLaw, "Spousal Support (Alimony) Basics," accessed June 6, 2016

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