Barbara J. Katzenberg, Attorney at Law

What is the difference between spousal support and alimony?

When an individual in Massachusetts is considering -- or going through -- a divorce, there may be many questions related to the legal aspects of a divorce that need answers. In many cases, there is confusion about alimony and spousal support that are often believed to be one and the same. However, there is a distinct difference in that spousal support is an amount paid by one spouse to another during the time of separation leading up to the final divorce proceedings.

Alimony -- if awarded -- forms part of the final divorce decree and is paid by a higher-earning spouse to a spouse earning significantly less after the divorce. Litigated divorces can take months, and sometimes, years to be finalized, and the court can order spousal support for that period. Another misconception is that alimony and spousal support are rights to which one spouse is automatically entitled. Each state has its own alimony laws, but such support is typically only ordered in cases in which one spouse can prove that he or she needs financial support, and it may be ordered for a period designated for that spouse to work toward being self-sufficient.

The spouse who leaves the marital home will typically not be awarded any support. However, if a spouse can prove that he or she left the home due to adultery, physical abuse, substance abuse or any type of criminal conduct, the court may consider issuing a spousal support order to the spouse whose safety is threatened. Determining the amount of spousal support and eventual alimony is up to the court, and it may be affected by several aspects, including the interests of the children, if there are any, the number of years the marriage lasted and the incomes of both parties.

Legal questions about alimony and spousal support are best asked of an experienced Massachusetts divorce attorney, rather than gathering bits of information from friends and family. Being fully informed will allow an individual to make important decisions that may determine his or her post-divorce financial stability. Knowing what to expect can also allow a person to do timely financial planning.

Source: ldnews.com, "The Law Forum: Understanding spousal support", Edward J. Coyle, March 31, 2016

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