Alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, is not as common as it once was, but can still be a necessary part of an equitable divorce.

In previous generations, spousal support was practically a given in any divorce. Because women did not have the career opportunities they have today, courts expected that after the dissolution of a marriage, an ex-husband would continue earning a living while his ex-wife would have to settle for low-paying jobs, or perhaps be forced to stay home with the children without earning any money at all. To address this unfair situation, courts routinely ordered men to make regular payments to their ex-wives to help them maintain a lifestyle similar to the one they would have enjoyed had the marriage lasted.

A lot has changed since those days, but there are still cases where courts determine that spousal support is necessary in the interest of fairness. This happens especially in cases where only one Courts consider factors such as: a non-working spouse’s ability to re-enter the workforce; the couple’s lifestyle during the marriage; and contributions a non-working spouse made to the working spouse’s career.

Imagine a case where Ramona and Todd met while they were both in graduate school. They both had promising careers ahead of them, but Ramona decided to put her career ambitions aside for a few years while she moved with Todd to a new state where he had been offered a teaching position. Soon, they had children and this delayed Ramona’s ambitions even longer. After several years went by, they decided to end their marriage. By now, Todd is a tenured professor who is making a good salary, but Ramona has been out of her chosen field for several years.

Once the two have divided their married property, Todd can go on earning his salary, but it will take Ramona years to rebuild her career.

In such a case, a court may decide that in the interest of fairness, Todd should be ordered to pay spousal support to Ramona for a period of time, allowing her to work her way up to a point in her career where she can support herself.