Alimony

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Alimony (also called maintenance or spousal support) is an obligation to provide financial support to one's spouse after separation or divorce. It is established by divorce law or family law in many countries and is based on the premise that both spouses have an absolute obligation to support each other during their marriage (or civil union known as common-law marriages). Alimony is the continuation of this obligation to support after separation or divorce has occurred.

Contents

History

Alimony has been discussed in ancient legal texts including the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (#137-#142)[1] and the Code of Justinian. [2] The concept of modern alimony in the United States derives from English ecclesiastical courts which awarded alimony in cases of separation and divorce. Alimony Pendente lite was given until the divorce decree, based on the husband's duty to support the wife during a marriage that still continued. Post-divorce or permanent alimony was also based on the notion that the marriage continued, as ecclesiastical courts could only award a divorce a mensa et thora, similar to a legal separation today. As divorce did not end the marriage, the husband's duty to support his wife remained intact.[3] The term alimony comes from the Latin word alimonia, and was a rule of sustenance to assure the wife's lodging, food, clothing, and other necessities after divorce.[4]

Liberalization of divorce occurred in the nineteenth century, but divorce was only possible in cases of marital misconduct. As a result, the requirement to pay alimony became linked to the concept of fault in the divorce.[5] Alimony to wives was paid because it was assumed that the marriage, and the wife's right to support, would have continued but for the misbehavior of husband. Ending alimony on divorce would have permitted a guilty husband to profit from his own misconduct. In contrast, if the wife committed the misconduct, she was considered to have forfeited any claim to ongoing support. However, during the period parties could rarely afford alimony and so it was rarely awarded by courts.[3] As men's incomes increased, and with it the possibility of paying alimony, the awarding of alimony increased, generally because a wife could show a need for ongoing financial support and the husband had the ability to pay.[3][6] No-fault divorce led to changes in alimony. Whereas spousal support was considered a right under the fault-based system, it became conditional under the no-fault approach.[6] According to the American Bar Association, marital fault is a "factor" in awarding alimony in 25 states and the District of Columbia.[7] Permanent alimony began to fall out of favor, as it prevented former spouses from beginning new lives,[6] though in some states (e.g., Massachusetts, Mississippi and Tennessee), permanent alimony awards continued.[8][9][10][11] Alimony moved beyond support to permitting the more dependent spouse to become financially independent or to have the same standard of living as during the marriage or common law marriage though this was not possible in most cases.[3][12]

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