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What Is Alimony and How Is It Determined in a Divorce Settlement

Alimony, alternatively known as spousal support, is money paid by one ex-spouse to the other after divorce. Alimony is meant to assist the receiving spouse adjust to life on their own or become self-sufficient after a lengthy relationship.

In order to determine if alimony will be paid and how much, the court will look at various factors such as:

  • How long the couple was married
  • Each spouse’s earning capacity
  • Each spouse’s age and health
  • Whether one spouse stayed home to care for children or manage the household while the other worked
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • How much each spouse contributed to joint property or debt

Generally, the longer the marriage, the greater the likelihood that alimony will be paid. This is because it is generally assumed that after a long marriage, one spouse has become accustomed to a certain standard of living and may not have the skills or education necessary to support themselves.

However, there is no set rule for how long you must be married to receive alimony. Each case is decided based on its own unique circumstances. If you are seeking alimony, it is important to speak with an experienced divorce attorney who can help you understand the laws in your state and build a strong case for why you should receive support.

Why do courts award alimony?

Alimony is meant to help the spouse who could be dependent on the other for financial support to get by through and after the divorce.

Courts consider several factors to decide whether alimony is required and how much should be awarded.

Types of Alimony

Alimony comes in various types, each with a distinct duration and purpose. Remember that depending on the type of alimony in question, a judge’s evaluation may be influenced differently by the duration of a marriage.

These are the most common types of alimony:

  • Temporary alimony: This type of alimony, sometimes called pendente lite alimony, is given during divorce proceedings. Its goal is to help the recipient spouse cover their living expenses while the divorce gets finalized.
  • Rehabilitative alimony: This alimony aims to assist the receiving spouse in pursuing the training or education required to become independent. Rehabilitative alimony is usually only paid for when it takes the recipient to finish school or get the work experience required to support themselves.
  • Permanent alimony: Contrary to its name, it can be granted forever and is not always paid permanently. If one spouse dies or the recipient remarries, permanent alimony may also end. It is usually saved for long-term marriages in which one partner has experienced an illness or other impediment preventing them from working.

How is alimony calculated?

There is no standard method for determining the amount of alimony in most states, and alimony calculation differs from state to state. Since every case is different, judges frequently consider a wide range of factors, such as those mentioned above, while assessing the parties’ circumstances.

Family court judges typically take into account these factors as a starting point when deciding how much alimony to give the supporting spouse:

  • Basic requirements of the recipient, such as food, housing, and medical care
  • Earning potential of the recipient, taking into account training and education
  • The ability of the paying spouse to cover their costs and expenses

What other factors impact alimony?

Though exact state laws may differ, the following are other factors that courts often consider when determining whether to award alimony.

Earning Capacity and Income

Each spouse’s income and earning potential is one of the most crucial considerations for determining alimony. Generally speaking, the larger the difference in the two spouses’ earning potential, the more likely alimony will be granted.

And it makes sense in light of why alimony gets awarded in the first place. If there is a significant difference in each spouse’s financial situation, one spouse will likely require assistance in becoming self-sufficient. Furthermore, jurisdictions will only grant alimony if the paying spouse possesses enough assets or income to cover the payments.

Remember that the court can consider each spouse’s prospective earning capacity and present income. For example, suppose one spouse gave up their profession or educational possibilities for the good of their marriage but has a high earning ability. In that case, alimony may be provided for only a short duration as they return to the job market.

Health and Age

When determining alimony, courts also consider each spouse’s age and health.

One spouse may have a higher chance of receiving alimony if they are older or have health problems that limit their capacity to work. When a couple approaches retirement age, it becomes a more significant issue.

Marriage Contribution

Each spouse’s contribution to their marriage is also considered when determining alimony. It covers contributions that are financial as well as non-financial.

When reaching their decision, a judge may consider if a spouse has contributed significantly financially to the marriage, like by supporting the family or paying the mortgage.

The same holds for non-financial contributions, like childrearing and managing the home. The other party may have a higher chance of receiving alimony if they give up their career or educational opportunities to support the marriage.

Other Factors

When determining an alimony award, courts may consider additional variables in addition to those listed above, such as the alimony’s tax implications, the paying spouse’s capacity to pay alimony, and other relevant factors.

In reality, a “catch-all” provision in many state laws gives judges the discretion to consider whatever factors they deem relevant to rendering a just and equitable decision.

Is there a minimum duration of marriage for alimony eligibility?

The minimum duration of marriage required for alimony eligibility can vary depending on the laws and regulations of the specific jurisdiction. There isn’t a fixed minimum duration in many places, and alimony eligibility is determined case-by-case. Factors such as the length of the marriage, the financial situation of both spouses and the contributions of each spouse during the marriage are considered when deciding whether alimony is appropriate.

It’s essential to consult with a legal professional or research the specific laws in your area to understand the exact requirements for alimony eligibility, as they can differ from place to place.

What Are the Consequences of Not Paying Alimony

If you are ordered to pay alimony and you fail to do so, there can be serious consequences. The court may order wage garnishment, which means that the money will be taken directly out of your paycheck. The court may also place a lien on your property or assets. If you still fail to pay, you could be held in contempt of court, which could result in fines or even jail time.

Paying alimony can be a financial burden, but it is important to remember that if you have been ordered to pay it, it is because the court has determined that it is necessary for the support of your spouse. Failing to pay alimony can have serious repercussions, so if you are having difficulty making payments, you should contact an experienced family law attorney who can help you explore your options.

How Long Do You Have to Be Married to Qualify for Alimony Payments


The length of a marriage is just one factor that a court will consider when determining whether to award alimony, but it is an important one. Generally, the longer the marriage, the more likely it is that alimony will be awarded. This is because courts generally view long-term marriages as being more financially interdependent than shorter ones. In other words, if you have been married for many years, it is more likely that you and your spouse have become used to a certain standard of living and that one spouse would be unable to maintain that standard after a divorce.

However, there is no hard and fast rule about how long you have to be married to get alimony. Each case is decided on its own merits, and the court will consider a variety of factors in addition to the length of the marriage. These factors can include the ages of the spouses, their earning capacities, their health, and their ability to become self-sufficient.

It’s critical to consult with a qualified divorce lawyer in Las Vegas if you’re thinking about or have already initiated a divorce. An attorney can also help you negotiate a fair and reasonable alimony agreement with your spouse, if possible. If you cannot reach an agreement, your attorney can advocate for you in court and help you obtain the best possible outcome under the circumstances.


What is the duration of marriage required to receive alimony?

While state laws may differ, most states don’t impose a minimum period of marriage on a spouse for them to be able to receive alimony. That being said, alimony is more likely to be granted (and for a longer period or in a larger amount) the longer the marriage lasts.

It could be worthwhile to explore the details of your case with a divorce attorney if you have any additional questions regarding alimony.

The divorce lawyers at Donn W. Prokopius, Chtd. have years of experience handling all aspects of divorce and family law matters in Las Vegas, Clark County, and throughout Nevada. We have a proven track record of success in complex divorce cases, including those involving high-asset spouses and couples with significant income disparities. We also regularly assist clients who are seeking to modify or terminate their existing alimony agreements.

Call us at (702) 474-0500 or send us an email to arrange a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable divorce attorneys.