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How the court decides on alimony

Learn about the criteria judges may use to decide whether to award alimony and how much alimony to award.

How is alimony decided?

Judges look at a few different factors to decide whether and how much alimony to award:

  • How long the marriage was
  • How old the parties are
  • The parties’ health 
  • Both parties’ income, employment, and employability, including whether they could be employable with reasonable effort and more training, if necessary
  • Both parties’ economic and non-economic contribution to the marriage
  • The parties’ way of life during the marriage 
  • Each person’s ability to continue the way of life they had during the marriage
  • Lost economic opportunity because of the marriage
  • Other factors the court thinks are relevant

How much alimony will be paid?

Except for reimbursement alimony or unusual circumstances, the amount of alimony should generally be no more than the receiving spouse needs or 30–35 percent of the difference between the parties' gross incomes when the order is issued.

The Child Support Guidelines include a list of what counts as “gross income.” Income the court won’t count includes: 

  • Capital gains income and dividend and interest income which come from assets you have already fairly divided
  • Gross income a judge used or is using for a child support order 

If the judge awards “general term alimony” or “rehabilitative alimony,” they may decide not to follow the limits for how long you should pay alimony or how much it should be, if there are good reasons to do so. Reasons may include:

  • If either party is elderly or has a chronic illness or unusual health circumstances 
  • The parties’ tax considerations
  • Whether the spouse paying alimony is providing and paying for health insurance for the ex-spouse
  • Whether the spouse who is paying has been ordered to provide and pay for life insurance for the ex-spouse’s benefit
  • Sources and amounts of unearned income, including capital gains, interest and dividends, annuity, and investment income from assets the spouse paying alimony still has that weren’t given to the receiving spouse at the time of divorce 
  • Living together for a long time before getting married and sharing money during that time, or living apart before the divorce for a long time. The court may consider these when determining the length of the marriage.
  • If a spouse isn’t able to support themself because the ex-spouse physically or mentally abused them
  • If a spouse isn’t able to support themself because they don’t have property, maintenance or employment opportunity
  • Any other factor the court thinks is relevant and includes in a written explanation

If the spouse who’s paying alimony remarries, a judge who’s deciding whether to increase the alimony will not consider the new spouse’s income.

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