Explaining the Difference in Alimony & Child Support

Alimony, or "spousal support" is often confused with child support. Although both forms of payment are the result of a divorce, the two concepts are very different from one another.

Alimony is money that is paid by one ex-spouse, the "breadwinner," to the other as ordered by a court in a divorce case. These payments exist to cover any potentially unjust division of assets. Alimony is based on the notion that both partners in a marriage have a duty to support each other equally. Such support can take the form of money, domestic duties and anything else that has helped the other spouse.

Alimony cases vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, although there are general guidelines that courts follow nationwide. Factors that courts consider when calculating alimony payments are as follows: the level of domestic responsibility the recipient has taken, any financial burden that the recipient has taken on in order to benefit the spouse, the health of the parties involved and the duration of the marriage.

Unlike alimony, child support is the financial obligation that a parent has to his or her child's custodial parent, to be used solely for the care of the child. While alimony payments can be used for whatever purposes the ex-spouse deems fit, monetary compensation for child support serves the purpose of purchasing food, clothing, health care, entertainment, education and any other necessary expenses for the child. As with alimony payments, child support payments are determined by states. Each state's child support law varies, but payments are typically calculated based on two factors: the cost of raising the child and the gross income of the non-custodial parent.

All states operate a child support enforcement program. Services offered in these programs include locating noncustodial parents, establishing paternity, establishing and modifying support orders, collecting support payments and enforcing orders, and referring noncustodial parents to employment services. Although child support can be paid voluntarily, a court-ordered financial agreement works to ensure that the noncustodial parent will pay the required amount.

Tara Yelman is a San Diego Family Lawyer originally from New York. She began practicing law in 1995 after graduating California Western School of Law and in 2005 She became a San Diego County family law settlement judge. She is currently the Managing partner of Yelman & Associates.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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