Maintenance, otherwise known as alimony, is a payment awarded to an ex-spouse after a divorce. Maintenance is separate from child support, which is intended for the child’s benefit. The purpose of maintenance is to ensure, when possible and fair, that both spouses maintain the marital standard of living after the marriage ends. It is also designed to compensate the ex-spouse for contributions made during the marriage, or economic opportunities lost. An ex-spouse is not entitled to maintenance, and the payment itself is not based on a formula, like child support. Instead, the amount and duration of maintenance is based on consideration of several factors, including the length of the marriage, the parties’ health and ages, their contributions to the marriage (both economic and non-economic), the division of property, etc.
Different variations and payment methods for maintenance exist to take advantage of potential tax savings and in some cases, allow fixed, non-modifiable payments. Each of these options should be considered to ensure the most advantageous outcome.
Maintenance, like child support, can be modified after the initial award based on either party’s change in circumstances. There is no specific list of changes that qualify as “substantial.” Some of the more common life changes include job changes, medical issues, retirement, completion of education, and sometimes cohabitation with a new significant other.
There is no set length of time for maintenance payments. The length can be as short as a few months, or continue indefinitely. You may hear that a “rule of thumb” is that maintenance is paid for at least half the length of the marriage. While that is a common award, it is not either a formal or informal rule. Each marriage is different, and therefore each situation must be reviewed carefully. Probably the most significant factor is the difference in income between the spouses. If both spouses earn similar incomes, maintenance is not likely.