People considering divorce often have questions about alimony or spousal support. Whether you worry about having to pay an unreasonable amount or about not being able to survive financially after the divorce, some basic information about spousal support can help.

While the law outlines some ground rules for approaches to alimony awards, every case is different. Speaking with an experienced attorney can give you more information about your own case.

Judges consider alimony upon request

The law does not automatically entitle anyone to alimony, even if there is an income disparity between the spouses. Instead, a judge will determine whether the requesting spouse meets three requirements.

Who may receive support

To receive alimony, a person must not have enough assets or income to provide for reasonable needs. When deciding which needs are reasonable, the court will look at the lifestyle the couple established during their marriage. One does not have to be at poverty level to receive support.

The spouse who would be paying support should be able to make these payments while providing for his or her own reasonable needs. Again, this means being able to sustain the previously established lifestyle.

The requesting party must also be unable to earn the income he or she seeks. This can be due to disability, lack of work experience or because he or she is the primary caregiver for minor or disabled children.

How courts determine amounts

If the court decides that the requesting party should get support, it then determines the amount. It considers factors such as the spouses’ respective earning levels and potentials, any health conditions, previous lifestyle, contributions to the marriage, age, length of the marriage, how the marital property gets divided, whether either party was at fault, as well as any other factors it deems relevant. Support payments may come in the form of one lump payment or regular periodic payments.

Provisions in prenuptial agreements

Some prenuptial agreements may contain stipulations as to spousal support. In such a case, one of the spouses may seek to challenge the agreement’s validity, or at least that of the relevant provisions.