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Alimony Overview

The law governing alimony varies from state to state, but the basic definition of alimony, also termed spousal support or maintenance, is a “court-ordered allowance that one spouse pays to the other spouse for maintenance and support while they are separated, while they are involved in a matrimonial lawsuit, or after they are divorced.” Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004).

Alimony Awards are Rare

Although some form of alimony is available in every state, alimony awards are uncommon. According to a 2002 United States Census Bureau report, spouses or ex-spouses accounted for only 11 percent of people receiving financial support from people outside their household. See Timothy S. Grall, Support Providers 2002: Household Economic Studies, Current Population Reports, February 2005, available at

Either Spouse may be Ordered to Pay Alimony

In 1979, the US Supreme Court held unconstitutional statutes authorizing alimony awards to wives but never to husbands. Orr v. Orr, 440 U.S. 268, 99 S.Ct. 1102 (1979). Although courts may order a husband or a wife to make alimony payments to his or her spouse, the vast majority of alimony awards require payment from husband to wife.

Forms of Alimony

Alimony laws vary from state to state. Not all forms of alimony are allowed in every jurisdiction. Florida law was recently changed to eliminate permanent alimony. All awards in divorce proceedings going forward will be temporary in nature. Depending on the period or purpose for which alimony is intended, alimony may be classified as follows:

  • Temporary alimony. Temporary alimony, also known as provisional alimony, alimony pendente lite, and allowance pendente lite, is awarded while an action for divorce or separation is pending. Temporary alimony may be ordered for a variety of reasons, including to ensure the spouses are on equal footing while litigation is pending and to ensure both spouses have the resources to bring or to defend against an action for divorce.
  • Permanent alimony. Permanent alimony, also known as final alimony and periodic alimony, is awarded upon final judgment of divorce or separation and lasts until a time specified in the court order, until the death of either spouse, or upon the recipient spouse’s remarriage. Permanent alimony is typically subject to modification by request of either spouse and upon a showing of “changed circumstances”
  • Alimony in gross. Alimony in gross, also known as lump-sum alimony, is awarded as a single, definite sum. Awards of alimony in gross are typically satisfied by a one-time, lump-sum payment to the recipient spouse, but installment payments may be ordered in some situations.
  • Rehabilitative alimony. Rehabilitative alimony, also known as short-term alimony and transitional alimony, is awarded to a spouse for the purpose of assisting him or her in acquiring the education or training necessary to become self-supporting. Rehabilitative alimony typically covers both living and educational expenses for the period during which the necessary education or training is obtained.
  • Reimbursement alimony. Reimbursement alimony is awarded for the purpose repaying a spouse whose financial contributions during the marriage directly enhanced the other spouse’s future earning capacity.


Because statutes and case law governing alimony differ widely from state to state and because the decision to award alimony requires a fact-based analysis, it can be important to get advice from a divorce attorney who understands the alimony laws in your state.

Determining the Amount of Alimony

The size of an alimony award is based on a number of factors. The duration of the marriage and the needs of both spouses are taken into account. You need to discuss your particular situation with an experienced attorney to gain a proper understanding of whether alimony might be an issue in your divorce and how much alimony might be awarded.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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