Family Law

Does My Soon-To-Be Ex-Spouse Have To Support Me?

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
One of the many things you’ll have to figure out in a divorce is how to cover living expenses.

What is Temporary Spousal Support?

Temporary spousal support is a form of alimony or "maintenance" paid by one spouse to the other during the divorce process. A court will usually award the lower-earning spouse just enough support to meet basic needs while the divorce is proceeding. Essentially, temporary support allows the spouses to maintain the marital standard of living—or something close to it—even though they're now living separately. But keep in mind, just because you or your spouse is awarded temporary support doesn’t mean that you’re automatically entitled to long-term alimony after the divorce is over.

If you can’t cover your own expenses during your divorce, you’ll need to file a request for temporary support because it’s not automatic. Specifically, you’ll need to file a written motion or "petition," which explains why you’re entitled to temporary support. You'll also need to produce evidence to support your request, which may include your pay stubs, bank records, credit card bills, rent payments, utility bills, student loan balances, and medical bills—basically, any documents that show your current income and expenses. Consult a local family law attorney for advice if you have questions about what to file or what evidence to include with your request for support.

Do I Qualify for Temporary Spousal Support?

Spousal support is a matter of state law, and the rules vary a bit depending on where you live. However, most states laws require a judge to look at all or some of the following factors when deciding whether a temporary support award is appropriate:

  • each spouse’s financial condition
  • the requesting spouse’s need for support
  • the paying spouse’s ability to pay for support
  • each spouse’s age and health
  • each spouse’s employability and work experience
  • each spouse’s ability to work, and
  • in some states, each spouse’s potential fault for causing the divorce.

While a court may consider several factors, the most important factors when deciding whether temporary spousal support is necessary are the requesting spouse’s financial needs and the paying spouse’s financial condition or ability to pay support.

The Recipient Spouse’s Need

If you’re requesting temporary support you’ll need to prove that you can’t meet your most basic living expenses on your own. For example, if you and your spouse earn similar incomes, a court probably won’t award you temporary support. Even if your spouse's income covered the mortgage payment during your marriage, you may be required to pay for your housing now that you’re getting divorced. By contrast, if you have significant student loan debts, no job, and mounting medical bills, you probably need temporary spousal support. But even if you have demonstrated a financial need, a court won’t order temporary maintenance unless your spouse has the ability to support you.

Your Spouse’s Ability to Pay Support

A court will award temporary spousal support only if the obligor spouse can pay. This means the paying spouse needs to earn enough money to cover basic expenses and contribute something to the requesting spouse. For example, a court won’t order temporary support if it would require the paying spouse to forego groceries, health insurance, or a car payment.

A judge will usually require both spouses to complete financial disclosures, sometimes called "preliminary financial declarations,” which detail each spouse’s assets, debts, and monthly sources of income, and expenses. Your spouse’s regular salary, overtime pay, bonuses, and social security benefits will be evaluated to determine if a temporary support award is appropriate in your case.

Will My Temporary Support Award Become Permanent?

Temporary support awards end as soon as your divorce becomes final. You may or may not be entitled to alimony once you’re divorced. The factors used to decide if alimony is appropriate aren’t the same as the factors on which a temporary support order is based. Specifically, temporary support usually helps needy spouses get back on their feet. A judge will typically only award permanent support or maintenance when there’s a great disparity in wealth between the two spouses, one spouse is disabled or unable to work, it was a long term marriage, or there’s some other factor that justifies permanent support.

There are no guarantees in divorce. You may receive temporary and permanent financial support, but then again you may not receive either. Whether you’re entitled to spousal support will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. To find out if temporary support is an option in your case, it’s best to speak to a local divorce attorney.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I stop paying temporary support if my soon-to-be ex is living with someone else during our divorce?
  • How will temporary support payments I receive affect my taxes?
  • I used to earn more than my spouse, but I just lost my job. Can I get temporary spousal support?
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