What is the Difference Between Alimony and Spousal Support?

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  • Written By: K. Wascher
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 01 February 2020
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Spousal support and alimony refer to the transfer of money, funds, and other property between spouses during a divorce action or a separation. These terms, while similar, apply to fund transfers made at different stages of a divorce or separation proceeding. When two individuals separate after filing for a divorce, spousal support payments are typically made to ensure that one spouse can continue maintaining his or her lifestyle or caring for minor children that he or she maintains custody for. Alimony is the term assigned to amounts that are required to be paid on a monthly or recurring basis after divorce proceedings are made final by a court.

Another common term for spousal support used in some jurisdictions is maintenance payments. Maintenance payments are typically made to the spouse with lower earnings or income so he or she can maintain a current standard of living until divorce proceedings are made final. Both alimony and spousal support payments are made on this basis; however, alimony is typically not issued during an informal separation. Most jurisdictions require two spouses to be legally separated according to the rules of separation in the jurisdiction before spousal support will be awarded. In other jurisdictions, divorce proceedings must have previously commenced before a court will order support payments of any kind between spouses.


The calculation of alimony and spousal support is often based upon the difference between the income earned by each of the spouses. In many jurisdictions, the party seeking alimony and spousal support will be entitled to a percentage of the difference between his or her income and the opposing spouse's earnings. The percentage that is used as the basis of alimony and spousal support calculations is set by the jurisdiction in which the parties reside. This percentage may take certain factors into account, such as the tax bracket of the higher-earning spouse, the number of children involved in the action, and the allocation of additional assets such as homes, vehicles, and other possessions.

Another common difference between alimony and spousal support concerns issues of taxation and deductible payments. Typically, alimony payments, or those that must be paid after a divorce proceeding is final, can be deducted by the individual making the payment. The spouse that receives the payment will typically be required to report the amount of the payment as income on his or her taxes. Spousal support is generally considered to be tax-free income to the receiving spouse, especially in circumstances where the spousal support amount contains an allowance for child care or support.


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