Maintenance (otherwise known as alimony) is support paid to a former spouse after a divorce. It is only available in divorce—it is not available to couples who never married.
It is different from child support in several important respects. Perhaps most important, there is no “right” to maintenance after divorce. Maintenance is awarded on a case-by-case basis. Based on the circumstances of each marriage, a maintenance award can range from a complete denial to indefinite, long-term payments. Also, although child support is based on a mathematic formula, there is no formula to calculate maintenance. There is also no specific end point for maintenance. Child support ends when the child reaches majority. Maintenance ends when the court believes it would be fair to do so. Maintenance is tax deductible by the payer and taxable to the recipient. Finally, maintenance can be waived permanently. For these reasons and more it is very difficult to determine what the court will award or not award which is why maintenance continues to be an issue of dispute within most divorces.
The general purpose of maintenance is to allow a former spouse to enjoy the marital standard of living for a reasonable time after divorce. It does not automatically provide the ex-spouse with one-half of the post-divorce income. It is also considered as a means of compensation for a spouse who was professionally or economically disadvantaged during a marriage. The spouse who elected to focus on childcare and homemaking while supporting the other’s career, is a prime candidate for maintenance. If the homemaking spouse’s earning power decreased because of these marital choices, maintenance is generally thought to be fair to compensate that spouse for the lost earning power. “Compensation” through maintenance may also be necessary for a spouse who supported the other’s pursuit of education, or continually followed the other spouse for career-related job transfers. Although some compensation may be necessary, the award must also be fair to the paying spouse. It serves no purpose to assist one spouse through a substantial maintenance payment that harms the other financially.
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