Spousal Rights in a Divorce

Updated November 22, 2016

Spousal support (or spousal rights, alimony or maintenance) is awarded upon divorce to a spouse who will be financially disadvantaged by the divorce. In awarding spousal support, a judge will often look at the marital standard of living. Those with questions about spousal support should seek legal advice.


Spousal support is intended to keep a spouse from being subjected to a decreased living standard after divorce. The concept originally sought to address the plight of stay-at-home spouses who, upon divorce, found themselves without employment skills or history. Because these spouses were unable to earn their own living, spousal support sought to ensure that they would be able to maintain an adequate standard of living, somewhat commensurate to that enjoyed during marriage.


States vary widely in their treatment of spousal support. Eight states have embraced the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, which conditions spousal support eligibility on whether a spouse can meet reasonable needs using their own employment skills and property obtained in the divorce. However, if a spouse will be caring for young children after dissolution, the court may take this into account regarding the effect of employment skills.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony is non-permanent financial support, intended to help a divorced spouse "get on her feet" during the difficult post-divorce period. This period of attaining financial self-sufficiency is known as the "rehabilitative" period. The time period may be indefinite, its ending dependent on occurrence of such events as the spouse finding a job, or remarrying.


Historically, an award of spousal support would often be tied to a finding of "fault" on the part of one spouse in the demise of the marriage. For instance, if one spouse was adulterous, that spouse's actions could justify an award of spousal support to the other spouse, or justify the prohibition of the adulterous spouse from received a spousal support award he would otherwise have received. However, almost all states have now embraced "no-fault" divorce laws and award spousal support based on need rather than the consideration of who was at fault for the failure of the marriage.

Prenuptial Agreements

Often, provisions for spousal support may be established before marriage in a contract known as a prenuptial agreement. Each state has its own requirements for valid execution of a prenuptial agreement. But even if the agreement was validly executed before marriage, many states' courts will still find parts of such agreements unenforceable if presented with evidence of uninformed execution or extreme hardship to one spouse as a result of enforcement of the agreement.

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About the Author

Erika Johansen is a lifelong writer with a Master of Fine Arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and editorial experience in scholastic publication. She has written articles for various websites.