A court may order one spouse to pay "spousal support" to the other spouse after the divorce. This is sometimes called "maintenance" or "alimony." The purpose of spousal support is to help the ex-spouse support themselves. However, the court is not required to order spousal support. Many divorces do not result in an order for spousal support. Courts generally expect people who are able to work to find a job and support themselves. The laws for spousal support are the same for men and women.
The court will not make its decision based on how either spouse has behaved. The court instead considers other things when deciding whether to order spousal support. For example, a court will look at things such as:
- How much income and property each spouse has
- What each spouse’s needs are
- How much each spouse earns now and can earn in the future
- How much time each spouse spent doing household duties
- How much time it would take for the spouse needing support to get a job or the training, education to get a job
- What type of lifestyle the couple had during the marriage
- How long the marriage lasted
- What the ages, and physical and emotional conditions are of both spouses
- Whether there are or were any agreements between the spouses
To determine how much support to order, courts now use a specific formula. Courts use this formula when both of the following conditions are satisfied:
- The combined gross yearly income of both spouses (the payer and the payee) is less than $250,000 and
- The payer is not required to pay child support or spousal support from a prior relationship.
To calculate the amount of spousal support you can use the following formula:
- Take 30% of the payer’s gross yearly income
- Now subtract 20% of the payee’s gross yearly income
- The result is the amount of annual spousal support
However, there is a limit on the amount of spousal support the payee can receive. The sum of (1) the annual spousal support calculated from the above formula and (2) the payee’s gross yearly income cannot exceed 40% of the combined gross yearly income of both spouses. If the sum of these two amounts exceeds 40% of the combined gross yearly income of both spouses, the court will reduce the spousal support amount. Here is an example of how this limit works:
- Payer’s gross yearly income is $50,000. Payee’s gross yearly income is $25,000.
- The combined gross yearly income of both spouses is $75,000 ($50,000 + $25,000).
- 40% of the combined gross yearly income of the spouses is $30,000 (40% of $75,000). The amount of spousal support plus the payee’s gross yearly income cannot exceed the $30,000 limit.
- Using the formula from above, the amount of spousal support, before the limitation, would be $10,000 (30% of $50,000 – 20% of $25,000).
- $10,000 spousal support + $25,000 payee gross yearly income = $35,000. This would exceed the $30,000 limit calculated above.
- Therefore, the amount of spousal support would be reduced to $5,000 ($30,000 limit - $25,000 gross yearly income of the payee).
To determine the time period during which support must be paid, courts also use a specific formula. Spousal support can be either temporary or permanent. Courts calculate the spousal support time period based on how long the marriage lasted when the divorce was filed. The calculations are:
- 5 years or less: Multiply the length of the marriage by 0.20
- More than 5 years but less than 10 years: Multiply the length of the marriage by 0.40
- 10 years or more but less than 15 years: Multiply the length of the marriage by 0.60
- 15 years or more but less than 20 years: Multiply the length of the marriage by 0.80
- 20 years or more: The court can order either permanent maintenance payments or maintenance payments for a period equal to the length of the marriage
A spouse can get spousal support during a divorce case. This temporary help ends at the end of the case.
The temporary help could also include:
- Temporary allocation of parental responsibilities (custody) and schedules for each parent to spend time with the children
- Temporary child support
- Temporary possession of the home
- Temporary restraining orders