How Do Judges Decide Alimony?

Image of American dollars on a table next to a gavel.
There are many things taken into consideration by a judge before reaching a decision about alimony.

Couples in the middle of a divorce face a deluge of uncertainty. Their day-to-day lives are upended as they learn to adjust to their new realities. One of the major questions in a divorce concerns whether or not a spouse qualifies for alimony. While courts will look at a wide variety of factors, there are some general guidelines that determine how judges decide to award alimony. However, alimony is not compulsory in most states.

Factors Affecting Alimony

Here are the factors that a judge will need to consider when deciding how much alimony to order after a divorce. These factors are also considered when a judge determines how long the spousal maintenance should last so that both parties receive fair treatment.

  • Amount of income that each party can reasonably earn every month
  • Amount of reasonable expenses each party will incur
  • Whether alimony can make it possible for the recipient to maintain a standard of living that is close to what the couple had during the marriage
  • Length of the marriage
  • Earning capacity of each spouse
  • The financial situation of each spouse (i.e. inheritances or other savings that one spouse may have)
  • Length of time the dependent spouse has been out of the workforce
  • Time and resources the dependent spouse will need to gain marketable skills, get training and get a job
  • Property division in the divorce
  • Age of each spouse
  • The health of each spouse
  • Economic and non-economic contributions each spouse made to the marriage
  • Any economic opportunities lost due to the marriage, such as one spouse who gave up their career to raise children
  • Any other factor a judge deems pertinent

Here are considerations that go into some of the main factors a judge will use to decide spousal support.

Length Of The Marriage

Judges will also consider how long the marriage lasted. If an ex was not employed during the marriage, she/he is likely to qualify for alimony.

The longer the length of time of your marriage, the higher the amount of alimony you typically have to pay under the divorce order. If one party did not work for years while they were married, the dependent spouse would need more financial help the longer they have been out of the workforce.

The court will measure the length of the marriage from the date of marriage to the date of divorce. However, you might be able to add months to this length. You must have evidence to show that you were already living together and managing your finances jointly before the marriage. You can consult your attorney for help with your specific situation.

Standard of Living

The court will often look at the standard of living the couple enjoyed during their marriage to decide how much alimony they should order. The judge will try to gauge whether or not an ex spouse has the ability to maintain that standard of living.

The judge may take into consideration the fact that one partner may have devoted time to domestic duties while she/he was married as opposed to furthering her/his education or developing skills that would have allowed her/him to pursue a career. Additionally, spouses may have health issues that require more support to maintain their standard of living.

However, Texas law states limits on the amount of spousal support that the family law court can order. Alimony payments are limited to $5,000 per month or 20% of one spouse’s average monthly gross income, whichever is less.

Income And Expenses

The judge will decide how much alimony to order based on what each spouse can reasonably earn. Take note that child support payments typically take precedence over spousal support. If one spouse decides to work at a job that has a lower income than what he or she could reasonably earn, the courts may use a higher income to calculate alimony payments. For example, a spouse who quits a high paying job to find another job may be required to pay spousal support based on how much they were originally earning. This is unless they can present evidence to show why they needed the change in jobs. Your attorney can work with you to present your legal case.

The debts and assets of the couple will likely play a role when a judge is deciding on alimony. The court may look at any assets that would allow an ex to generate income or if that ex has a substantial inheritance that she/he will be able to use after the divorce. Some ex-spouses qualify for alimony if they retain the marital home but do not have the means to pay for it. Ultimately, the purpose of alimony is to support the dependent spouse after divorce. Alimony is usually temporary until they find a job and have the means to support themselves independently. The court will try to quantify your financial need and your ex’s ability to pay.

What If My Spouse Agrees To Pay Me Alimony?

Spouses can agree on their own alimony arrangement without having a judge to decide for them. The judge can agree to make the arrangement a part of the final divorce order for both parties. However, the alimony stated in the divorce decree cannot exceed $5,000 per month or 20% of the paying spouse’s average monthly gross income, whichever is less. While both parties can separately agree on a higher amount, that amount will not be enforceable in court.

The legal factors that judges consider when awarding alimony to an ex vary from state to state. Hence, the wise thing to do is consult a family law attorney. The attorney may be able to provide information about the likelihood that an ex would receive alimony based on the couple’s circumstances. The attorney can also provide information about spousal maintenance, failure to pay alimony, and/or spousal support modification.

If you are seeking legal advice, let the award-winning Family Law experts at Sabelhaus and Lynch law firm help you prepare your legal case. We have years of experience in family law.

Contact us today for a no-cost case review.