Alimony exists in England and the United States, as well as numerous other countries throughout the Western World, including most countries within the European Union. The requirements to collect alimony and the method of determining appropriate payment amounts varies by country. In general, there are numerous factors that go in to determining the appropriate amount of alimony, including income, standard of living, and length of the relationship.
The concept of alimony is derived from common law principles of marriage that dictate that parties have an obligation to support their spouses. This obligation does not end with marriage, especially if one spouse became dependent upon the spousal support and/or reduced his or her earning power as a direct or indirect result of the marital relationship. These concepts are taken into account when determining the appropriate amount of alimony payments.
Important factors in determining alimony payments include the ability of each spouse to make a living, the income of each spouse, the standard of living established during the marriage, the length of the marriage, and the presence or absence of children in the marriage. If one spouse earns significantly more than the other, he or she may be required to pay alimony in order to help the other spouse maintain a standard of living similar to that enjoyed during the marriage.
Alimony payments are separate and distinct from child support. The amount of child support awarded can, however, reduce the amount of alimony awarded if the individual required to pay support does not have sufficient income to pay both alimony and child support. The interests of the child are paramount, and child support payments take precedence over alimony payments.
Fault in the divorce is, to some extent, considered in determining alimony. If the spouses signed a premarital agreement, this will usually be honored if the terms of the agreement are considered fair by the court. Parties can also work out their own alimony settlements and payments as part of their divorce settlement if they are able to agree, but the court will step in if they cannot come to an amicable resolution on the issue.
In most countries, the length of the marriage is also an important determinant in any award of alimony. A marriage of ten years or more generally entitles the spouse to more support in the United States, for example, than if the marriage lasted less than ten years. Other countries that provide for alimony support also consider the length of the marriage as a factor in determining appropriate support requirements after the dissolution of the marriage.