Nearly every aspect of divorce is stressful or emotionally draining in some form or another. If you have been unemployed, underemployed, or a stay-at-home parent for a while, one overwhelming aspect of divorce might be how you will provide for yourself and/or your children. Spousal support or alimony may be ordered by court to help compensate you if you are at a financial disadvantage, but you probably have many questions about how alimony works and how it will affect you.

Q: How is alimony decided?

A: It is entirely up to court to decide if either party will receive alimony and what the terms will be if alimony is awarded. Usually the main deciding factors are your occupation, your income, the duration of your marriage, your standard of living during the marriage, your children’s needs, and how much time you would need after the divorce to obtain employment or education.

Alimony is usually awarded to assist you financially until you become self-sufficient or sometimes until you reach a similar standard of living to what you had while married.

Q: Do we have to go to court to sort out alimony?

A: Technically, a judge does not have to make the decision about alimony if you and your ex-spouse come to an agreement beforehand. A court order is still necessary to make the agreement official and hold the parties accountable, but no, a formal litigation process is not necessary to decide alimony.

Keep in mind, though, that alimony is often one of the most difficult parts of a divorce for people when it comes to negotiating agreements. However, if you and your ex-spouse can work out an agreement outside of court, you can avoid a very lengthy and stressful litigation process.

Q: How long can I be paid alimony?

A: This will also depend on what the court orders, or what you and your ex-spouse decided, if you came to an agreement outside of court. Usually alimony is awarded until it is deemed that you no longer need it or are self-sufficient without it. Sometimes there is an end date in the agreement for when your ex-spouse can stop paying alimony, but other times, alimony must be paid until the court orders otherwise.

Remarriage often results in termination of alimony payments. This is not always the case, but oftentimes, alimony is not considered necessary anymore if you remarry.

Q: What happens if my ex-spouse doesn’t pay alimony according to the agreement?

A: Sometimes people try to avoid alimony payments. As long as the agreement is written in a court order, it must be followed. You can bring your case back to court in a contempt proceeding if your ex-spouse does not pay alimony when they are supposed to.