Who Gets Alimony and How Long Does Alimony Last?

Anderson, Creager and Wittstruck, P.C., L.L.O.
Gavel on desk next to dollar bills

When a marriage ends in divorce, it's not just emotions that get tangled. The financial threads that bound two people together must be unraveled, and often, this leads to the question of alimony. Also known as spousal support, alimony is a financial payment made by one spouse to another either during the pendency and/or after a divorce. It is designed to provide financial support to the spouse who may have been economically dependent on the other during the marriage. But who qualifies for alimony? And how long does it last? 

Alimony: Not a Given in Every Divorce 

Contrary to popular belief, alimony isn't automatically awarded in every divorce case. Each case is unique, and the court will consider the specific circumstances and needs of the parties involved.  

The goal of alimony is to provide financial support to the spouse, who for various reasons, may not be in the same financial position as the spouse paying alimony. Common reasons could be because a spouse may have sacrificed their own career or earning potential for the benefit of the marriage. This can include staying home to raise children or supporting their spouse's career by taking on household responsibilities. Typically, alimony is awarded in cases where one spouse has a significantly higher income than the other, though there are many other factors the courts consider.

Understanding Alimony Eligibility 

In Nebraska, determining someone's eligibility for alimony involves considering several factors. It's not a one-size-fits-all process, and the court takes into account the unique circumstances of each case. Here are some key factors that contribute to someone's eligibility for alimony: 

  1. Length of the Marriage: The court often considers the duration of the marriage. Typically, the longer the marriage, the more likely it is that alimony may be awarded, especially if one spouse has been out of the workforce for a significant period. 

  2. Earning Capacity of Each Spouse: The court looks at the current and potential future earning capacity of both spouses. If there's a significant disparity in income or earning potential, alimony might be awarded.

  3. Contributions to the Marriage: The court also evaluates the contributions each spouse made to the marriage. This includes not just financial contributions, but also non-monetary contributions like homemaking and childrearing,

  4. Interruption of Personal Careers or Educational Opportunities: The court considers if one party sacrificed their own personal career or educational opportunities to support the other spouse's career or education.

  5. Age and Health of Each Spouse: The age and health status of each spouse can play a role in alimony decisions. For instance, if a spouse is older or has health issues that limit their ability to work, they might be more likely to receive alimony. 

  6. Standard of Living During the Marriage: The lifestyle established during the marriage is another factor. The goal of alimony is to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a lifestyle reasonably similar to what they enjoyed during the marriage. 

  7. Ability of Supported Party to Engage in Gainful Employment: This factor also takes into consideration whether the ability to engage in gainful employment interferes with interests of the minor children in custody of the party lower income spouse.

It's important to remember that the court has broad discretion when it comes to alimony. While these factors guide the decision, they don't dictate it.  

Determining the Duration of Alimony 

Similar factors will also determine the duration of alimony. But it's important to note that spousal support isn't set in stone; it's determined on a case-by-case basis and subject to change. It's not as simple as plugging numbers into a formula; it requires careful consideration of the unique circumstances surrounding each divorce.  Alimony is intended to be rehabilitative in nature.

  • One crucial factor is the length of the marriage. Typically, longer marriages might result in longer alimony durations.

  • Another factor considered is the age and health of each spouse. If the spouse seeking alimony is older or has significant health issues that limit their ability to work, the court might award alimony for a longer period. 

  • The court also considers the standard of living established during the marriage. The aim is to help the lower-earning spouse maintain a lifestyle reasonably comparable to what they were accustomed to during the marriage. Therefore, if the marital lifestyle was high-end, and the lower-earning spouse cannot maintain it on their own, alimony might be awarded for a longer duration to help bridge the gap. 

  • Lastly, the earning capacity of each spouse plays a role in determining alimony duration. If there's a substantial disparity in the earning capacities of the two spouses, the court may award alimony for a longer period to provide the lower-earning spouse an opportunity to gain the necessary skills or education to improve their earning potential. 

Remember, while these factors guide the court's decision, they don't dictate it. The court has broad discretion in determining alimony, including its duration. It's also important to note that alimony may be modifiable if a party can show good cause showing a material and substantial change in economic circumstances.

Can Alimony Be Modified? 

Yes, alimony arrangements can be modified. It's important to understand that the court recognizes that circumstances can change over time, though in order for a modification to occur, the change in circumstances must be shown by good cause. For instance, the paying spouse might have an involuntary decrease in income, or the receiving spouse might get a significant pay raise or remarry. 

In such cases, the court allows for modifications of alimony arrangements. However, the person requesting the modification must prove that good cause exists showing a material and substantial change in circumstances since the original order was made. The change must be something that was not anticipated at the time of the divorce, and it must be long-lasting. 

Statutorily, unless otherwise ordered, alimony terminates on the death of either party or upon the remarriage of the supported party.

Comprehensive Family Law Counsel 

If you're considering seeking alimony in a divorce or a modification of your alimony arrangement, it's crucial to consult with a knowledgeable attorney. At Anderson, Creager and Wittstruck, P.C., L.L.O., we're here to help you navigate this process. We understand that changes in life are inevitable, and we're committed to helping our clients adapt their legal arrangements accordingly.  

Remember, alimony is not meant to be a punishment or a reward. It's a means of ensuring that both spouses are able to maintain a reasonable standard of living after the divorce. The amount and duration of alimony can vary greatly depending on the specific circumstances of the case, and it's crucial to consult with an experienced family law attorney to understand your rights and options. 

Based in Lincoln, Nebraska, we understand the intricacies of family law and are committed to providing compassionate and effective legal representation. We work with individuals and families from all backgrounds and walks of life throughout Lancaster County, Gage County, Saline County, Seward County, Otoe County, Cass County, Saunders County, and more. If you're going through a divorce and have questions about alimony, don't hesitate to reach out to us.