Depending on the financial circumstances of a marriage, a court will sometimes award a former spouse alimony, otherwise known as spousal support. The purpose of this is to make sure both parties leave the marriage with the financial means of at least affording basic necessities to sustain a reasonably comfortable life.
For example, a couple has been married for 10 years. The husband is a physician, making a substantial monthly income. Because he works so much, the wife chose to forego her own career and stay home to take care of the kids. She is 100 percent supported financially by her husband. At the time of divorce, the court may order the husband to pay the wife monthly alimony for a set period of time. This will give her a reasonable period of time to get measures in place to financially support herself. This may include going back to school, conducting a job search or bringing some expired professional credentials up-to-date. It would be quite unfair for a judge to grant a divorce and award everything to one spouse, while leaving the other destitute.
Most states base alimony on a fairly lax set of guidelines known as the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act. Unlike child support guidelines, there are no specific set rules when it comes to alimony. A court is allowed broad discretion in deciding if a spouse owes, how much and for how long. However, a few recommendations are made by the Act, suggesting that a Judge consider things such as age of the spouses, standards of living throughout the majority of the marriage and ability to pay, just to name a few.
An attorney who practices in divorce court can usually offer a general opinion on how local Judges often rule on alimony.