What is Alimony: The Complete Guide to Alimony

NB: This article has been reviewed by Nnenna Jones, a foreign-trained lawyer, and US Immigration Law Practitioner.

What is alimony?

There are tons of website guides about what alimony is, but here is what makes this one different.

I’ve recently had to console Jane a longtime friend of mine whom I grew up with, on what to do as she faces separation from her childhood love. Call it counseling or relationship advice.

It was not an easy time for her. Jane and Mike were once happy together. In fact, I remember the day they took their vow of “forever together”.

But suddenly life happened.

Now in her mid-40s, Jane is faced with a situation she never expected would happen to her. And she is not alone.

In the USA alone, about 50% of marriages end in divorce alone.

So in this guide, I am going to share with you everything I taught my friend, Jane, on this issue as we face the most crucial phase of her divorce journey.

In this guide on alimony, you will learn the following

  • What is alimony?
  • Why does Alimony exist?
  • Who pays Alimony?
  • What is the difference between alimony and child support?
  • How is alimony determined?
  • How to get alimony in a divorce?
  • Divorce Alimony rules
  • Is alimony taxable?
  • Alimony vs Palimony
  • Alimony Calculator

Let’s jump in.

What is Alimony?

Alimony or alimony payment is a legal obligation on a person to support one’s spouse after a divorce. In most cases, alimony is awarded when you have been married to your spouse for a long time and usually according to the laws of the country in which you are domiciled.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding alimony. Alimony can only be granted based on certain conditions or when certain conditions have been met.

Before we go into the nifty gritty of alimony, it is important to understand the history of alimony and why it exists.

Why Does Alimony Exist?

Alimony is derived from the Latin word “Alimonia” which means substance. Alimony exists to provide support to a partner (usually a woman) who is being divorced or separated from the husband. It is believed that a spouse has given up all his / her time, effort and energy into keeping the home, taking care of the children and supporting the family. If he / she is now to be divorced for whatever reasons, he / she ought to be compensated for giving up their time and life.

This practice is not new and has been around for as long as during the Babylonia Code of Hammurabi.

Who is legally bound to pay Alimony?

Alimony differs from country to country. In the American divorce system, alimony is awarded; when there is a substantial amount of disparity in the spouse’s income and only for long term marriages. Any spouse can be ordered to pay alimony regardless of the gender.  Precisely, alimony is paid by a spouse who

  • Has the potential and capacity to earn


  • Is unable to meet their financial obligations after the separation.

What is the difference between Alimony and Child Support?

Alimony should not be confused with child support. There is a huge difference between the two. Alimony is payment made to a former spouse who earns substantially more than the other spouse while child support is payment made to a woman to enable her take care of the children she is raising. That means a woman can be entitled to both alimony and child support, while in some cases, she might only be entitled to child support in the absence of alimony.

How is Alimony Determined?

Now that we have established what alimony is and who is qualified to get it, let us now examine how alimony is calculated.

When calculating alimony, some of the following factors are considered:

  • How much the recipient needs
  • The earning capacity and employability of the parties
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The lifestyle of the parties
  • The spouse’s age, physical and emotional health
  • Other important factors like parental responsibilities, whatever the court may deem relevant and other factors.

These form the basis for determination of the amount to be paid for and which spouse is entitled to alimony.

How to Get Alimony in a Divorce

Again, the laws differ and would depend on the laws of the country you are domiciled. If you are under the United States divorce system, a party seeking alimony during a divorce has to look at the family law codes guiding his / her state of residence. At the time the divorce papers are being filled out, the party seeking spousal support or alimony would have to request for it, if the divorce is contested and no consensus towards that has been reached between the parties.

You can also request temporary support during your period of separation while waiting for your final divorce decree to be issued.

If you are requesting alimony, after you file your paperwork, you will serve your spouse and get your court date.

You will need to make sure that you also provide proof of your income and expenses and any documents that can help the court determine the income of your spouse as well.

In some instances, before you go to court, you may be required to go through mediation in an attempt to determine alimony or other divorce issues.

If you can’t reach an agreement, then you can still go in front of a judge who makes the decisions related to alimony for you.

After the hearing, the judge will sign a court order to create a legal and binding agreement.

In some states in the United States, enforcing alimony payments may include the ability to seek wage garnishments, liens and other enforcement vehicles. It is also possible for the recipient to return to court in a contempt proceeding to force a non-payer to comply with the court order.

Alimony Law by Countries and States in the US

Different states have their divorce laws which the alimony law is based on. If you are going through a divorce, you may want to check out the resources below which links to different divorce laws in different states in the US and other countries

Divorce laws in Texas

Divorce laws in Maryland

Divorce laws in Nigeria

Alimony Calculator

The best way of calculating Alimony is

Alimony Payment = (40% of the paying spouse’s net income (post-child support) – less 50% of the amount of the supported spouse’s net income (if he or she is working). )

Major Difference Between Alimony and Palimony

For claiming alimony:

  • The couple requires to be legally married
  • Living together for a considerable time.

whereas for claiming Palimony:

  • The couple must be eligible to marry;
  • They must come out in society as a couple akin to a married couple;
  • They must have moved in together with free consent;
  • They must have spent a significant period of time together;
  • They must have stayed together in a “shared household”

If you are facing a divorce and you want to be sure what you are entitled to, then I will advise you to talk to a divorce lawyer who will understand the attorney-client relationship and guide you accordingly.

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