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Alimony, sometimes called spousal support, are payments made from the the higher earning spouse to the lower earning spouse after divorce. Alimony is not always awarded in a divorce, courts today are trending away from it, but alimony is typically granted when one spouse earns significantly more than the other spouse, or that spouse has been out of the workforce for a period of time. It’s purpose is to allow the lower earning spouse to maintain their same standard of living while they work on becoming self-supporting.

You and your spouse can agree on the amount of alimony and the length of time alimony will be paid. If you cannot agree, you can go to trial to settle the matter. If you are ordered to pay alimony, you are usually ordered to make monthly payments until:

  • a date set by a judge several years in the future
  • your former spouse remarries
  • the judge determines that after a reasonable period of time, your spouse has not made reasonable efforts to become self supporting
  • your children no longer need a full-time parent at home
  • a significant event such as retirement occurs, which convinces a judge to modify the amount paid
  • one of you dies.

Alimony is tax-deductible for the person paying it, and is considered taxable income for the person receiving it. For this reason, it is very important to keep sufficient records, whether you are paying or receiving alimony. It is common for there to be disputes between the spouses about amounts paid or received, or sometimes the IRS challenges their claims. Without documentation of payments made and received, the payer could lose the alimony deduction. In addition, the payer could be ordered to pay back support if the other spouse makes a claim in court.

In order to prevent conflict or disputes, both the payer and receiver of alimony should keep track of certain documents and records. The person paying alimony should keep:

  • a list showing each payment (date, check number, and address to which the check was sent)
  • the originals of checks used for payments (keep in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box). Be sure to note on each check the month for which the support is being paid, and
  • if you pay in cash, receipts for each payment, signed by the recipient.

The payer should hold onto these records for at least three years from the date you file the tax return deducting the payments, though some lawyers and tax advisers instruct you to never throw away documents like these.

The spouse receiving alimony should make a list showing each payment received. The following information should be recorded:

  • date payment was received
  • amount received
  • check number or other identifying information (for example, the number of the money order)
  • account number on which any check is written
  • name of bank on which check is drawn or money order issued
  • a photocopy of the check or money order, and
  • a copy of any signed receipt you give for cash payments.