Alimony, or spousal support, is defined as money that is paid to a spouse or former spouse following a separation or divorce. It does not include child support.
There were 827,261 divorces and annulments in 44 states and Washington, D.C., in 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
The purpose of alimony payments is to maintain an ex-spouse’s standard of living following a split.
But the rules for how long those payments continue varies from state to state.
In California, alimony payments generally last for half the life of the marriage unless the couple has been married for at least 10 years, in which case those payments can last for life, according to Gorman.
But many states are moving toward a more “rehabilitative” approach now that both spouses are generally able to earn income, according to divorce attorney Andrew Vaughn, a professor at Loyola Law School and founder of NuVorce.
In Georgia, for example, a spouse would have to pass multiple legal requirements to qualify. The length of those payments would also be pinned to a goal, say two years for a spouse to return to school and get his or her career back on track after a sustained time out of the workforce, Vaughn said.
Evaluating your own divorce plans should start not just based on your state rules, but also your particular financial situation.
Anyone who is planning a divorce or even just thinking about it should coordinate with a divorce attorney, CPA and financial planner to find out what the new rules mean for them, said Gorman at Chequers Financial Management.
“Each divorcing couple has a unique situation and they really need to run the numbers to make sure they’re looking at the new law the best possible way,” Gorman said.