Alimony, Palimony, and Child Support - Explained

Alimony, or “spousal support” as some states refer to it, is money that is paid by one ex-spouse to the other as ordered by a court in a divorce case. Traditionally the recipient of alimony is the female spouse; however there are cases in which prosperous women pay alimony to the male spouse, and more recently same-sex cases in which the wealthier partner must pay.

Alimony exists to cover any potentially unjust division of assets. It is based on the notion that both partners in a marriage have a duty to support each other equally; this includes finances, upkeep of the home, and any other domestic duties (excluding sexual favors) a partner may have.  Tampa divorce attorney Scott P. Davis explains that “the courts balance one spouse’s financial needs with the other’s capacity to pay.”

Though there are guidelines and formulas for courts to follow, no two alimony cases are the same. Many factors must be considered when calculating alimony payments, such as the level of domestic responsibility the recipient has taken, any financial burden that they may have suffered in the past in order to benefit their spouse, the health of the parties and the duration of the marriage. If the marriage was long-lasting, it is likely that alimony will last until a second marriage or death. There are, however, exceptions; for example, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah have placed new caps on time limits of alimony and have instilled new criteria on payments. Massachusetts is the most recent state to alter its alimony laws; the state passed a controversial reform in 2011 that abolished most lifetime spousal support.

Derived from alimony is a more recent term, informally called palimony. Legally referred to as a “Marvin action” based on the unsuccessful first palimony court case, it is a court-ordered financial settlement between a couple that although never married, cohabited for a significant amount of time. Couples choose to stay together and remain unmarried for a myriad of reasons; they may feel that their relationship is valid without having to obtain a piece of paper, the couple may fear divorce, and same-sex couples are widely unable to marry. As lengthy cohabitation without marriage becomes more popular, so do palimony suits. However, although such cases are rising in popularity they are not getting any easier to prove or win and palimony laws are only enforced in 24 of 50 states. For palimony to exist between a couple there must be proof that one partner promised to provide financial support for the other through a written or oral contract. Misunderstandings between parties about certain duties that they had in their cohabited relationship can lead to a palimony suit.

Often confused with alimony is child support. Child support is the financial obligation that a parent has to his or her child’s custodial parent to be used to care for the child. Unlike alimony, child support payments are not to be used for the ex-partner. The monetary compensation is to serve the purpose of purchasing food, clothing, health care, entertainment, education and any other expenses for the child. Child support payments represent on average, 40 percent of income for poor custodial families who receive it. The amount of money to be paid under each state’s individual child support laws varies, but is fundamentally based on two factors: the cost of raising the child and the gross income of the non-custodial parent. All states operate a child support enforcement program. Services offered in child support programs include locating noncustodial parents, establishing paternity, establishing and modifying support orders, collecting support payments and enforcing child support orders, and referring noncustodial parents to employment services. Although child support can be voluntarily paid, a court-ordered financial agreement works to ensure that the non-custodial parent will pay a required amount.  

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