Overview of Spousal Maintenance Awards in Divorce and Legal Separation


In a divorce or legal separation, spousal maintenance may be ordered by the court to provide important financial support for one party or the other. Maintenance is paid by one spouse (or former spouse) to the other spouse (or former spouse). Some states refer to such support as alimony, others as spousal support. In any case, the purpose and result is the same, as we’ll discuss in this article.

Historical Basis for Alimony -- Times Have Changed

There was a time when traditional marriages were entered into with the understanding and agreement that only death could terminate the bond. A divorce was only possible when there was evidence of marital misconduct, or fault. Once fault was established, the court looked to punish the party responsible for destroying the marriage.

Need for Alimony. Alimony was a solution to a very real economic problem. A divorced woman’s chances of finding work sufficient to support herself, even marginally so, were not promising. Knowing this, the courts were unwilling to let a husband impoverish his wife if he was guilty of marital misconduct. Receiving alimony sustained the wife who had kept her marriage vows, and paying alimony punished the husband who had not.


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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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