How to Calculate Alimony Payments

by Teo Spengler

Alimony is also called spousal support, and that term accurately expresses the intention of the payment. It is a monthly stipend paid by one former spouse to the other when a court determines that it is both equitable and consistent with the laws of the state. Calculating alimony payments can only be accomplished when all the details of a divorce are factored into a state's laws. It's a good question to ask an experienced family law attorney in your state.

Tips

  • In order to calculate alimony, a judge weighs factors like each spouse's age, education, physical and mental health, work experience and salary, as well as the duration of the marriage, into a state's divorce laws.

Factors Used to Calculate Alimony

A divorce court awards alimony in order to provide financial support to a lower-earning spouse. It is used to balance the difference in the earning capacities for each spouse after a divorce, so that each can afford to maintain the same standard of living to which they became accustomed during their marriage.

That means that the earning power of each spouse is a critical factor in determining whether alimony is necessary and calculating it. "Earning power" includes a spouse's level of education, work history and current earnings or potential earnings if a spouse is just returning to the work force. If there is not a significant difference in earning capability, alimony is not likely to be granted.

When you want to know how to calculate alimony, you'll need to look at other factors that impact earning power. One is age. The older the lesser-earning spouse, the less likely it is that she can, with education and work experience, make up for the difference in earning capability. While a 30 year old divorcee may be able to dust off her dreams of heading to medical school, this is less likely for a 65 year old.

A spouse's chances of balancing the different in the earning capacities will be less if she is unwell. Whether she suffers from physical illness or mental illness, it can impact job and wage possibilities. The duration of the marriage is also very important. Even if there is a vast difference in earning capacities between the spouses, alimony is less likely if the marriage only lasted a few months or even a few years. Likewise, the existence of minor children can also affect alimony, especially if the lesser-earning spouse has been the one staying at home and caring for the family.

Types of Alimony

You will see different terms used to describe types of alimony. Sometimes the terms are dictated by state law but more often they are selected by the court to provide an explanation and/or justification for the award. The range of types of alimony demonstrates why providing an alimony payment calculator is difficult.

Some state laws refer to pendente lite alimony. This is sometimes called temporary alimony and only lasts during the divorce case. It gives the spouse the ability to continue the lifestyle the couple enjoyed during the marriage, at least until the marriage is officially ended.

Limited duration alimony, or term alimony, is an award for a certain, set amount of time. It is the most commonly awarded form of alimony. For example, in California, when a couple has been married for less than 10 year, alimony is usually awarded for a term equal to one-half the duration of the marriage. If the marriage lasted eight years, the court would award limited duration alimony for four years. Contrast this with permanent alimony, available in Florida and some other states.

Limited duration alimony is also sometimes called rehabilitative alimony. That's because its purpose is to support the lower-earning spouse while she educates or trains herself to prepare to enter the work force. This is slightly different from reimbursement alimony, which is awarded to compensate for a spouse's economic choices that increased the other spouse's earning capacity during the marriage. For example a spouse who puts her husband through medical school might be eligible for reimbursement alimony. The purpose of this type of alimony is to provide money for spouse who, the court finds, will never become self-supporting. The court tries to award an amount that gives the spouse a standard of living as close as possible to the one enjoyed during the marriage.

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About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between French Basque Country and California.