Spousal Maintenance vs. Alimony

Most people recognize the cringe-inducing term – alimony, but how is that difference from spousal maintenance? And what is spousal maintenance?

One of the issues routinely handled within a divorce case is spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance is when one spouse continues to pay a monthly amount for the support of the other after the marriage is over. Most people recognize this process as the cringe-inducing term – alimony.

Spousal maintenance remains one of the most heavily litigated areas in divorce cases because it is a very gray area. What a court may or may not award in both the amount to be paid monthly or how long that monthly amount should be paid can often depend on the philosophical outlook of the individual judge as the law on maintenance has evolved rapidly in the last 20 or so years.

I have worked for years with divorce finance professionals and mediators to help clients analyze their circumstances and make agreements on the issue of spousal maintenance to maximize benefit to both parties rather than suffer the cost and acrimony of a trial. 

In the current legal climate, spousal maintenance is usually only a major issue between parties who have had a long- term marriage (opinions vary on the magic number for “long term”) and there is a significant disparity between their earnings (or one spouse has been a lifetime homemaker). But the issue can arise in shorter term marriages where there is disability or hardship for one of the spouses.

The range of awards of spousal maintenance in both how much and how long (amount and duration) can be incredible gray areas. This is why I commonly hear judges and mediators prime or scare clients by telling them that spousal maintenance continues to be the single most litigated issue in divorce cases – even and especially after the divorce is complete because once ordered by a Court – spousal maintenance is an ongoing obligation – often leaving ex-spouses to possibly litigate the issue again and again if their circumstances change and most certainly at the retirement of the paying ex-spouse.   

Spousal maintenance is often a scary concept to both the payor and the recipient spouse because both are stressed about their own overall financial security once their marriage is over. People are super irrational when they worry about their basic security at this level and it can all get out of control. BUT There are many options for common sense analysis and settlement of the issue  within a divorce if you have good counsel.

If you hare ready to talk, contact us. We are ready to listen. We are here to help with all your family law needs.