How to Determine Alimony

Three Parts:Planning an Alimony RequestEvaluating Your Request for AlimonyEstimating Your Alimony Claim

Ending a marriage is rarely easy. Along with breaking up the household, one spouse may be facing financial penury, often through no fault of his or her own. Alimony, which has a long history in common law, allows for the economically-disadvantaged spouse to be helped during the divorce and after. Alimony can be periodic payments, a lump sum, or negotiated as part of the property settlement.

Part 1
Planning an Alimony Request

  1. Image titled Determine Alimony Step 1
    Understand what alimony is. Alimony, also called separate maintenance or spousal support, is money paid during a divorce or legal separation outside of the property settlement. The payments, either periodic or in a lump sum, are paid to the dependent spouse from the supporting spouse.[1]
    • Alimony varies by state, but falls into some general categories. Rehabilitative alimony is intended to help a spouse get established. The most common example is alimony received while completing a college education.[2]
    • Temporary alimony may be granted during a legal separation, during the divorce process, or for a fixed time after the divorce is granted. Reasons behind temporary alimony include giving the spouse time to move, get a job, or establish childcare.
    • Permanent alimony is usually only awarded in long-term marriages of 20 years or more where one spouse has a very significant advantage in terms of income.[3]
  2. Image titled Determine Alimony Step 2
    Know who is eligible for alimony. Either spouse can receive alimony from the other. Alimony is not punishment for wrong-doing in a divorce. It is intended to level the field between the two spouses when one has a significantly higher earning capacity than the other.[4]
    • Adultery can be a factor in calculating alimony if it can be proved that the cheating spouse used marital assets to support the affair. If you have strong proof of adultery in your marriage, give this information to your attorney.
  3. Image titled Determine Alimony Step 3
    Review the laws for your state. Family law, including marriage, divorce, child custody, and alimony are governed by state law. As a result, the types of alimony and other standards may vary from state to state. Research the law and discuss it with your attorney.[5]
    • Alimony is a very complicated issue and unless you and your spouse can agree on a support amount, you should strongly consider consulting with an attorney.

Part 2
Evaluating Your Request for Alimony

  1. Image titled Determine Alimony Step 4
    Gather information about your contributions to the marriage. Alimony dates back to Ecclesiastical courts and English common law. The basis of the unwritten law was that a wife had the expectation of being supported by her husband and when the marriage was declared a nullity, "she must be liberally supported."[6]
    • As alimony doctrine evolved, it could be awarded to either spouse. The law also recognized that one spouse may give up educational and employment opportunities in order to further the career of the other party. The two classic examples are the spouse that works low-wage jobs to put the partner through medical school and the military spouse (usually the wife) who moves around from post to post as the spouse climbs the command ranks.
    • Gather information about your earnings and education both before the marriage and during. For example, if you gave up job offers or promotions to stay home and raise children, your lawyer will want to know the difference between what you could be earning and what you are earning.
    • Other contributions that need to be documented are volunteer work and entertaining done to support or advance the other spouse's career.
    • If your spouse has a military record, detail your life as a military spouse, including transfers, overseas assignments, time spent as a single parent, and other contributions you made to the marriage and to support your spouse.
  2. Image titled Determine Alimony Step 5
    Evaluate your future plans. Unless you qualify for permanent alimony, any court award is most likely to be rehabilitative in nature. In some states, you have to file a plan with the court showing your plans and timetable. For example, you plan to attend college for a degree or need to take courses to re-establish your professional credentials.
    • If you are granted rehabilitative alimony and fail to complete your plan, the court may revoke the award.
  3. Image titled Determine Alimony Step 6
    Understand the tax consequences. You must report the alimony you receive as income on your tax return. Depending on your other sources of income, you may end up owing taxes to the federal and state government because of your alimony payments.
    • Speak to an attorney about the advantages of alimony versus a larger cut of the property settlement. Property awards are not taxable and your spouse may be agreeable to forfeit property rather than having to pay money every month.[7]
    • Generally alimony received will have to be disclosed as income when you are applying for financial aid and public benefits.

Part 3
Estimating Your Alimony Claim

  1. Image titled Determine Alimony Step 7
    Request alimony from the court. Alimony can only be granted in a legal separation or a divorce proceeding. If you are filing for divorce, you must include a request for alimony in your pleading. If you have been sued for divorce, the request for spousal support must be in your response and counterclaim. Failure to do so can permanently bar you from receiving alimony.
  2. Image titled Determine Alimony Step 8
    Research using an alimony calculator. While alimony is a very complicated subject and open to negotiation during divorce proceedings, there are several online calculators that can help you estimate a reasonable amount based on both parties' age, income, and subjective factors such as length of time out of the job market. Look for one that is specific to your state or use a generic calculator.[8]
    • When using the calculator, you will need to know your ex-spouse's income and age. You will also have to have realistic and accurate information about your education and earning capacity.
    • In a medium length marriage of at least 10 years, whether or not you worked at all during the previous 5 years will matter.
      • For example, if your spouse earns $100,000 per year for five years and you earned nothing because of full-time parenthood, you could be entitled to up to 50 percent of your spouse's income.
      • Conversely, if you earned $30,00 per year during that same time, your alimony estimate drops by over a third.
    • Calculators are only the most basic of an estimate. The judge will not rely on that number. It is a ballpark number that is the starting point in the negotiation.
  3. Image titled Determine Alimony Step 9
    Determine an alimony estimate. You can also hone your alimony request by looking at it through the judge's eyes. The judge takes the earning capacity of each spouse, their expenses, and how to balance the income to keep both spouses as close as possible to "the standard of living established during the marriage."
    • Unlike child support, there is no set formula for determining alimony.
    • Factors include age, health, net assets of each party and the intangible "expectations of the marriage." This is most common in either military assignments or corporate marriages that required multiple moves. In those situations, the dependent spouse often gave up opportunities with the expectation that when a certain level of rank was reached, the lifestyle would stabilize.
    • If your estimate figures that one spouse needs X amount of money and the other spouse has X + $1000 amount of money available, then a reasonable alimony request is to split the surplus by asking for $500 per month.[9]
  4. Image titled Determine Alimony Step 10
    Use the "40 percent" rule. A few states offer guidelines and some judges employ what is informally called the 40 percent rule. This means that alimony will not exceed 40 percent of the combined gross income (all sources, before taxes) of both parties.
    • Using the example of one spouse earning $100,000 and the other making $30,000, the presumed amount of alimony would be $22,000, bringing the dependent spouse up to 40 percent of what the combined income of the household would be.[10]


  • Do not use the alimony system as an attempt to intimidate or gain advantage in a divorce proceeding. If the judge suspects one side is demanding unfair alimony to punish the other party, the entire request may be denied. Conversely, if the other party is quitting jobs or otherwise attempting to plead poverty to avoid alimony, the judge may grant the full alimony request.
  • Despite being codified in state law, alimony is the most complex and often emotional issue in a divorce. Unless you and your spouse agree, you should not attempt to calculate or gain alimony on your own without the advice and counsel of an attorney or tax professional.
  • Permanent alimony is falling out of favor with courts. Unless you have been married for over 20 years to a high net-worth individual and can show you made substantial non-monetary contributions to the marriage, expect your alimony to be capped at a certain number of years. The two most common caps are the time expected to complete an education or the number of years in the marriage.

Article Info

Categories: Divorce