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Know Your Rights About Spousal Support

But before you re-watch The First Wives Club and begin your vengeful plotting, it may be a good idea to become informed as to the kind of benefits or spousal support to which you are entitled. Keep in mind that not all divorces or separations involve spousal support. In fact, current statistics state that only about 10 to 15 percent end with a spousal support judgment. The statistics change for child support, which is a different ballgame altogether. You might have thought it was the other way around, but not everyone is married to Lionel Richie.

Divorce laws vary by state, so you must first meet the residency requirements of the area in which you live. You must also have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage according to your state’s divorce laws. Once divorce papers are filed by one spouse and sent to the other, the receiving spouse, if they disagree, has the opportunity to file papers telling his/ her side. This is called “contesting the divorce.” Financial issues can often stall the process. However, property division and spousal support are sometimes settled out of court. Custody and child support may be decided as part of your divorce if not already handled in family court. For more information, check out the various websites listed below. So, what is Spousal Support?

Spousal Support is the payment or transfer of money (or assets) from one spouse to another after a divorce. You may be more familiar with the phrases “prenuptial agreement” (which may contain clauses to provide or exclude spousal support) “alimony,” or “permanent maintenance.” The laws associated with spousal support seek to prevent a divorced spouse from suffering due to a diminished standard of living. It is not unusual for one spouse to have been out of the workforce for such a significant amount of time that it would be difficult for him/ her to quickly attain a job or professional position in order to maintain his/ her standard of living after the divorce. There are other possible reasons for seeking spousal support and some are stated below. Your attorney can help you determine which, if any, apply to you. In general, The United States Supreme Court has held that both former husbands and wives are able to receive spousal support payments. It is no longer just a man seeking a way to “buy his way out of the marriage.” More information is available at www.divorcesupport.com.


A prenuptial agreement is a written contract between two people who are about to marry, setting out the terms for retention of assets, treatment of future earnings, control of property, and division of the aforementioned should the marriage end. These agreements are fairly common if either or both parties have substantial assets, children from a prior marriage, potential inheritances, or high incomes. Sometimes people shy away from prenuptial agreements, but marriage itself is a legal contract. If you have considerable assets, protecting yourself with a prenuptial agreement may be highly beneficial. If you are getting divorced and have a prenuptial agreement, bring it to your attorney for a thorough review.

Temporary Maintenance vs. Permanent Maintenance

There are two main types of spousal support that can be received at the end of a divorce: temporary maintenance and permanent maintenance. Temporary maintenance is often dispersed to a recipient in the form of Alimony. This is money paid from one spouse to another for day-to-day support of the spouse who has fewer financial resources. Sometimes alimony also can be used to pay back a debt.

On the other hand, courts can award permanent spousal support to provide money for a spouse who cannot become economically independent and/or desires or requires maintaining a lifestyle that the court considers appropriate given the resources of the parties. Common reasons for ordering permanent maintenance include advanced age, chronic illness, or inherent inability of the recipient to have “earning power” comparable to that of the more prosperous spouse. Although this form of support is termed “permanent”, the level of support can change or cease depending on the changing circumstances of either the payer or the recipient. Spousal support generally ends if the recipient remarries and may also end if the recipient lives with someone else.

The new trend of Alimony

In the past, most alimony awards provided for payments to former wives by “breadwinning” former husbands. As the American culture has changed, today most marriages include two wage earners. Women are viewed as less dependent, and men are often more likely to be primary parents. The courts and spousal support awards have kept up with the times. The tradition of men paying and women receiving spousal support is slowly retreating, and orders of alimony payments from ex-wife to ex-husband are on the rise.

A major final issue…do you need a lawyer to procure your assets?

The law does not require you to have a lawyer, but, generally speaking, it is better to have one, if at all possible, during a divorce. A lawyer has far more expertise and legal knowledge regarding the issues of child custody, child support, financial support, and division of marital property. A good lawyer can help you protect your assets while investigating those of your spouse to ensure full disclosure.

That being said, hiring a divorce lawyer can get expensive. But like many things, you could end up paying more if you are not well advised, particularly if your situation is complex. For simpler circumstances, particularly if the divorce is going amicably, you might choose to use a divorce mediator instead to avoid escalating hostilities. You can find more information at www.womenslaw.org as well as www.divorcenet.com.

Additional information

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not a lawyer and do not endorse the services of the websites and information I refer to in this article. I am NOT offering legal advice and provide these links and the material in this article for your information as a journalist ONLY.

The following links may provide helpful information about divorce and spousal support:






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