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Spousal support guidelines are developed by each state and applied to individual divorce cases largely at the discretion of the presiding family court judge. Spousal support guidelines detail the situations where spousal support is appropriate after a divorce, the factors that can affect the amount and duration of spousal support payments, and other relevant legal matters regarding spousal support. Historically, spousal support guidelines provided spousal support to ex-wives who had been faithful in their marriage and had no marketable job skills. Spousal support guidelines have since changed to reflect the current cultural and economic climate of our times. Spousal support, also called alimony or spousal maintenance, is a financial payment made by one spouse to the other (lower income) spouse after divorce. All fifty states have established spousal support guidelines that spell out the circumstances under which spousal support is appropriate and the factors which influence the amount and duration of spousal support.
All state's spousal support guidelines indicate that financial support is not an absolute right of the lower-income spouse, but rather a privilege that may be granted for a number of reasons. Spousal support may be awarded to an ex-spouse of either gender whose access to resources and income is comparatively lower than their spouse's. Spousal support guidelines state that support may be appropriate for the following reasons: to continue family support (though spousal support is different from child support); to prevent the dependant spouse from becoming a public charge (welfare assistance); to compensate the spouse for unpaid services to the marriage (i.e. homemaking); and to compensate one spouse for making sacrifices so that the other spouse could further their education, training, and/or career.
Spousal support guidelines do vary by state, but generally include the following factors: the length of the marriage, the age and health of each partner, the standard of living established during the marriage, each partner's current level of income and earning potential, non-paid service preformed for the marriage (i.e. homemaking and childcare), the sacrifices one spouse made so the other could further education, training, or career, and other factors. In 29 states spousal support guidelines also allow fault to be considered with regards to eligibility for spousal support. If the lower income spouse committed adultery or some other marital wrong, they may be disqualified from spousal support privileges.
Spousal support guidelines also state how long payments will be made and what factors automatically terminate support responsibilities. Spousal support orders can require that payments be one-time, lump sum, temporary, or indefinite. Most state's spousal support guidelines state that support ends when the recipient dies, remarries, or establishes residence with another partner.
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