What Qualifies an Ex-Wife for Alimony?

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If you're going through a divorce, you may have questions about the process. Divorce laws vary from state to state, and in some states a judge can't order you to pay alimony. The states in which a judge can award alimony to an ex-wife generally consider the same factors when deciding whether an ex-wife qualifies for alimony.

Standard of Living

  • Courts consider several factors related to the standard of living that you and your wife enjoyed during the marriage and whether each of you has the earning capacity to maintain that standard of living while living separately. A judge also analyzes whether your ex-wife lost opportunities to develop her career because she devoted her time to domestic duties during the marriage and whether she needs education or training to develop skills that will help her earn more money in the future. At the same time, the judge will look at your ability to pay spousal support, including your earned and unearned income.

Assets and Debt

  • The judge also considers whether your ex-wife has assets that generate income for her, including assets that she owned before the marriage, and any obligations and debts the wife assumes through the divorce. For example, if your ex-wife inherited a substantial sum of money before you got married, kept that money separate during the marriage and will retain it after the divorce, she is less likely to qualify for alimony than if she had no inheritance. Conversely, if your ex-wife retains assets such as a house and a car in the divorce, she may be more likely to qualify for alimony if she has to make house payments and car payments and doesn't have the income to make those payments.

Length of Marriage

  • If you have been married 10 years or more, your ex-wife may qualify for alimony, particularly if she was not employed during most of the marriage. Generally speaking, the longer you remained married to your wife while she was not employed, the greater the likelihood that a judge will award alimony to her. Even if you have been married less than 10 years, your ex-wife may get alimony if your children are young and if her working outside the home would unduly interfere with their upbringing.

Age and Health

  • If your ex-wife is too old to realistically reenter the workforce or if her health is so poor that she cannot realistically be expected to support herself, a judge is likely to order you to pay her alimony. By contrast, if you are nearing retirement and you are in poor health, the judge will take those factors into consideration when deciding how much alimony you have to pay and how long you have to pay it.

Domestic Violence

  • Some states consider a couple's history of domestic violence, if the marriage has been violent. In general, regardless of the other factors, a judge will not require you to pay alimony to your ex-wife if she has been violent to you. In that case, the burden is on your ex-wife to prove why she should receive alimony from you.

Legal Advice

  • The factors a judge in your state will consider before awarding alimony to your ex-wife may differ from these factors. You should consult with a divorce attorney in your state to find out how your individual circumstances and the circumstances of your marriage will affect an award of alimony to your ex-wife.

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