1. People & Relationships
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

How Do The Courts Determine Alimony


Lawyer Giving Guidance to a Man in a Courthouse in Front of a Magistrate
Jim Arbogast/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Question: How Do The Courts Determine Alimony


What do the courts take into consideration when determining if alimony and whether or not it is paid?


Answer: Ability to Pay:

The first consideration when settling a spouse’s alimony obligation would be the ability to pay alimony. The court looks at the spouses gross income and reduces it by subtracting all mandatory deductions to come up with the net income.

Mandatory deductions are things like income taxes, social security and health care. The courts do not consider things such as union dues or work related social dues as mandatory and will not deduct them from the gross salary. The courts put a higher priority on support payments than voluntary debts and would rather see voluntary debt not paid than have a spouse go without adequate support.

Ability to Earn:

Both spouses ability to earn is taken into consideration when it comes to alimony. The courts not only consider what a spouse actually earns but also considers what the potential for earning is.

Ability to Self – Support:

Whether or not a spouse has marketable skills and is able to work outside the home is something else the courts take into consideration. Having custody of pre – school aged children and no access to daycare could make it impossible for a spouse to work outside the home.

The ability to be self – support differs from actually being self – supporting. If a spouse has marketable skills but refuses to look for work, the court is likely to limit the amount of alimony and the length of alimony.

In many states, no alimony is awarded if both spouses are able to support themselves. If one spouse was dependent on the other during the duration of the marriage, that spouse is often awarded alimony for a rehabilitative period. This could be a time period lasting anywhere from several months to several years.

If a spouse becomes self - supporting before the end of the court ordered support period the paying spouse can petition for the courts to terminate the alimony. In, however, the spouse is unable to become self – supporting during the allotted time he/she may also petition the courts for an extension of alimony. In some states this can only be done to keep the spouse from going on welfare.

Standard of Living During Marriage:

When a court sets alimony, it often considers the standard of living during the marriage and tries to maintain this standard for both spouses where possible. Maintenance of a standard of living is more of a goal when it comes to alimony, than a guarantee.

Length of Marriage:

If a marriage is relatively short and there are no children, the courts often refuse to award alimony. If there are children under school age, however, the courts often award alimony to the spouse who is given physical custody. Most courts feel that a child under school age is better served by having a full time parent at home.

Tax Consequences of the Alimony:

For federal income tax purposes, alimony paid under a written court order is deductible by the spouse who pays and is taxable to the recipient of the alimony. Child support, on the other hand, is tax – free to the recipient and not deductible by the spouse who pays.


At the time of divorce, the court allocates debt incurred during the marriage between the spouses based on who benefits most from the asset that came with the debt. If the court orders a spouse to pay a large portion o the marital debts, it often reduces the amount of alimony that the spouse is ordered to pay.

Professional Degree of License:

Courts will not only take into consideration the amount of financial support given during a marriage but, also the amount of emotional support. If a spouse worked and supported the other spouse through school, some states will take this into consideration. The spouse could ask for and receive compensation in the form of alimony for all the years he/she worked why the other was in school.


©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.