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How Does a Judge Determine Whether to Award Alimony?


Hollywood portrayals often show alimony as a means to punish a spouse or to make extravagant purchases. Life does not imitate art.

Alimony in Rhode Island is awarded when one spouse does not have the financial means to provide for essential purchases like rent, utilities, and food. Alimony is not about helping someone enjoy a more extravagant lifestyle than they lived while married. Most alimony awards are also temporary, giving the receiver time to become self-sufficient.

Spousal support is not a given in any divorce. Criteria are applied to evaluate whether alimony is warranted.

Subjective & Objective Factors in Rhode Island Alimony Awards

Any Family Court judge who is tasked with ruling on a petition for alimony considers many factors that are identified in Rhode Island law. The law requires the judge to take into account objective data such as the length of the marriage. Other factors are more subjective, such as the probability of the requesting party being able to complete education or training.

A judge will evaluate the following elements in determining alimony:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The health and age of each spouse
  • The occupation, sources of income, and employability of each spouse
  • The time and expense required for the requesting party to acquire education or training to develop marketable skills
  • How long the requesting spouse was out of the workforce so they could oversee home responsibilities
  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • The marital conduct of each spouse
  • The paying spouse’s ability to pay support while still maintaining their financial independence
  • Other factors the court deems relevant

How your lawyer presents the argument makes a significant impact on how the judge perceives these subjective factors. Our extensive trial experience gives our attorneys at McIntyre Tate LLP the ability to create strong cases that best illustrate the needs of our clients.

Duration of Alimony

The duration of alimony is at the judge’s discretion. The court has tremendous latitude in deciding how long one former spouse should pay the other. In many cases, the judge will base the timeframe for alimony on how long the spouse needs to become financially independent. The payee spouse may also be required to periodically prove their continued need for support. Alimony without an end date is only granted in rare circumstances.

Types of Alimony

There are three basic types of alimony, one of which supports a spouse during the divorce process while the other two are for post-divorce needs. Alimony is gender-neutral. All genders have equal rights in seeking spousal support.

  • Temporary Alimony: Temporary alimony is provided to a spouse while the divorce is in process. The award will stay in place until the divorce is finalized. Alimony may, or may not, be awarded as part of the final judgment.
  • Rehabilitative Alimony: Rehabilitative alimony lasts for a specific period of time. The duration varies depending on the circumstances but usually lasts until the spouse has gained the education, training, or work experience to find self-supporting income.
  • Permanent Alimony: The court may award permanent alimony if the spouse cannot become financially independent. The spouse might have physical or developmental impairments that reduce their ability to earn an income. Or, the spouse needs to care for a child who has around-the-clock special needs. Permanent alimony might also be awarded after a long-term marriage when the spouse is older and reentering the workforce is not practical.

Like child custody and child support orders, alimony orders are modifiable when there are significant changes to the circumstances that established the order. The payor spouse can also be liberated from paying if their former spouse remarries. However, if alimony was included as part of a marital settlement agreement, the parties can specify in their agreement that alimony is non-modifiable.

Representing Our Clients’ Best Interests in Alimony Cases

At McIntyre Tate LLP, we have seen first-hand how critical alimony can be for some spouses. The award gives them peace of mind as they rebuild their lives during and after a divorce. We have also witnessed the other side of the coin. A spouse is not being truthful about their need, attempting to get financial support from our client when none (or less) is really required.

Our client’s best interest is at the center of every legal step we take. Whether you are fighting for financial support or arguing that it is not necessary, we have the know-how to build powerful arguments to justify your case.

Learn more about your alimony rights in a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys. Send us a message online or call (401) 351-7700 to schedule.

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