During a divorce, the judge might direct one spouse to pay the other person regular support, usually called alimony or spousal support.
Historically and statistically speaking, the woman usually receives alimony payments, because historically women have been more likely to give up careers to stay at home and raise children. That trend is likely to shift, given that more and more women are household breadwinners or co-breadwinners. In any event, the courts do not consider gender when they decide alimony. They do, however, scrutinize each spouse’s financial situation when the marriage ends.
Alimony payments differ from child support, which goes directly to provide for the needs of the children. The paying spouse usually makes monthly payments. In some cases, he or she might pay a lump sum, pay for a home or transfer property to the ex.
How Payments Are Made
Often, an automatic wage garnishment system is established that transfers money from the paying spouse’s paycheck to the other spouse. The California Courts website summarizes how this works:
“After the court decides the amount of spousal or partner and/or child support, the earnings assignment (also called “wage garnishment”) tells the employer how much to deduct from each paycheck and where to send the payment.
With an earnings assignment, if you are regularly employed, the employer will take support payments directly out of your paycheck. Most support is paid this way, and federal and state laws require it in almost all support cases. It is the employer’s responsibility to withhold the wages if there is an earnings assignment. If you also have a child support earnings assignment in place, child support is deducted first. Spousal or partner support assignments come after child support earnings assignments.”
Remarriage and Alimony
If the supported spouse remarries, then the paying spouse will have no further obligation to keep paying alimony. The courts might also modify alimony if either party experiences a significant change in circumstances, such as a job loss. In that case, the paying spouse will want to obtain a court order to reduce or stop payments as soon as possible. However, in some cases, the original divorce order states that alimony cannot be modified or that the paying spouse will continue to pay alimony even after the supported spouse remarries.
Other Unique Situations Related to Alimony
Sometimes, a supported spouse remarries, but the marriage becomes invalidated. In that case, the courts might annul the marriage for specific legal reasons, such as bigamy, insanity, coercion, etc. The courts will then review whether the spouse should restart alimony after considering what is best for both parties.
If a supported spouse does not remarry but lives with someone or sees an increase in earnings, the paying spouse must obtain a court order to reduce spousal support. If the supported spouse moves in with someone as a roommate, the courts might also decide to reduce alimony.
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