What is Alimony Maintenance?

Alimony and maintenance are terms that refer to payments from one spouse to the other spouse for the benefit of the spouse who is receiving payment. Some states use the term alimony; other states use the term maintenance; both mean the same thing. Only about 15 percent of divorces or separations involve payments of alimony. (For simplification in the rest of this section, we will use only the term “alimony,” but wherever “alimony” is used, “maintenance” could be substituted.)

The overwhelming majority of alimony awards are from the husband to the wife, but in appropriate circumstances (such as a husband who takes care of the children and home while the wife works outside the home), payments from the wife to the husband also can be ordered. The United States Supreme Court has held that it is constitutional for a state’s statute to allow alimony payments only to the wife; if payments to the wife are permitted, payments to the husband must be permissible. All states allow courts to order alimony. (For many years, Texas laws prohibited courts from ordering alimony, but those laws have been repealed.) There are several types of alimony, each of which is designed to meet particular needs. 

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