Family & Relationships

Alimony and Child Support Basics

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When a couple divorces, a court may ask one spouse to pay alimony or child support to the other spouse in order for things to be fairer financially. Here is what you need to know about the two types of financial support that can be included in a divorce settlement.

Alimony (spousal support)

Alimony, sometimes referred to as spousal support, is generally awarded in situations when one spouse makes substantially more than the other. Laws vary by state, but the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act recommends that the courts take the following into considering when deciding whether to award alimony:

  • Physical, emotional and financial conditions of each spouse
  • Length of the marriage (alimony isn’t typically awarded when a couple was married for only a few years)
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Length of time spouse who makes less money would need support to become self-sufficient
  • Ability of spouse earning more money to support him/herself and the other person

As with most issues in your divorce, you and your spouse can agree to the amount and length of time alimony will be paid and propose this to the court. If you can’t agree, the court will decide.

How do alimony payments work? Is alimony taxable?

Generally, alimony is a set amount paid monthly. Alimony is tax-deductible for the payer and is considered taxable income for the payee. If your divorce settlement includes alimony, you should keep the following records on file for at least three years:

For the alimony payer

  • A log of each payment (date, check number and address to which the check is sent)
  • Originals of checks used for payment
  • Signed payment receipts, if cash is used

For the alimony recipient

  • A log of each received payment (date received, amount, check number)
  • Bank name and photocopy of checks used
  • Copy of signed receipts for cash payments

If a spouse refuses to pay alimony, you should take immediate legal action to enforce the court order. If necessary, a court may jail a reluctant payer to show that it means business.

How long do alimony payments last?

Many factors are used in determining how long a party will be responsible for paying alimony. The following are some ways alimony can be ended:

  • The judge sets a date several years in the future when the alimony will stop.
  • The person receiving alimony remarries.
  • The children no longer need a full-time parent at home.
  • A judge determines that, after a reasonable period of time, the person receiving alimony has not made a sufficient effort to become at least partially self-supporting.
  • Some other significant event — such as retirement — occurs, convincing a judge to modify the amount paid.
  • One person dies.

Child support

Both parents have a financial obligation to support their children. Although child support rules vary by state, typically parents must support a child until:

  • The child turns 18 (or older if the child has special needs).
  • The child marries.
  • The child is on active military duty.
  • Parental rights are terminated (e.g., if someone else adopts the child).
  • The child has been declared emancipated by a court. (Emancipation can occur when a minor has demonstrated freedom from parental control or support and an ability to be self-supporting.)

How much child support do I have to pay?

Each state has guidelines to determine how much child support must be paid. A judge generally will use the following factors to help determine who pays child support and how much it will include:

  • Income or potential income of each parent.
  • Custody arrangements.
  • How many children the parents must support.

To learn more about child support rules in your state, consult with a local attorney who practices family law.

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